The Florida Democratic Party is so anxious to re-elect three House members from Broward, Palm Beach and Duval Counties that it’s sending a mass mailing to voters in distant Osceola and Polk Counties, warning about a Republican who has already quit his race.
Two-term Rep. Mike Horner, R-Kissimmee, looked like a sure bet to beat Democrat Eileen Game of Frostproof until late last week. That’s when his name turned up in the investigation of a suspected prostitution business. Horner withdrew as a candidate and on Saturday, Republican Party officers picked a substitute nominee, Michael LaRosa, a real estate developer from Celebration.
But it was too late to get LaRosa’s name on the ballot for Nov. 6. By state law, Horner’s name will appear and votes for him will count for LaRosa.
Horner’s departure was a game-changer for Game, who had only raised about $13,000 — pocket change in a legislative race — including $10,300 she loaned to her campaign.
So in rode the Florida Democratic Party to her rescue, with a 20,000-piece mailer that reminds everybody about Horner.
Florida Republicans have been here, done this. In 2006, after former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley resigned over inappropriate text messages to congressional pages, party officials tapped state Rep. Joe Negron of Stuart (now a state senator) to take his place, though it was too late to print new ballots. Running under the name of a man who’d resigned in scandal, Negron nearly won.
Again this time, Democrats want as much confusion at the polls as possible — as would the GOP, if the situation were reversed. The Democratic hit piece gets right to the point: “Rep. Mike Horner is linked to a brothel.”
“News reports link State Rep. Mike Horner to an alleged prostitution operation in Orange County. His scandals have been an embarrassment to central Florida.”
Scandals, plural? The leaflet doesn’t mention others, but it concludes: “Vote NO to end the embarrassment to our community. Vote no to Mike Horner.”
As much as Republicans like small business, it can’t condone Horner’s hookers. If you want to associate with craven creatures who long ago abandoned all conscience and will do amoral things for money, you should have to choose politics or brothel, not both.
The Democratic hit piece doesn’t mention that Horner has dropped out of the race. Nor does it bother to mention he has not been charged with anything illegal.
Neither does it mention Game or LaRosa. The Democrats don’t want voters to focus on them. They want them recoiling at Horner’s name.
Now, the oddity. The tiny print at the bottom of the leaflet’s last page gives the legally required notation that it was paid for by the state party. It then says, “The Florida Democratic Party endorses Mia Jones, District 14, Perry Thurston for State House, District 94, and Mark Pafford for State House, District 86.”
Huh? How’d they get into this?
Jones, Thurston and Pafford are House members from Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. And their party certainly does endorse them.
But why say so in a mailing to Polk and Osceola voters? Because doing so makes the advertisement a “three-pack.”
Nominally endorsing three Democrats constitutes “party-building,” rather than an “on-behalf-of” expenditure for Game. Thus the law pretends the mailing is meant to educate voters about the Democratic Party, which does not require the three officeholders to be running in the counties where the flyer is received.
Both parties use three-pack ads. Usually, they extoll the virtues of one candidate for 59 seconds, or on both sides of printed materials, and then jam two other names into the tagline.
This mailing is unique in that it doesn’t mention any candidate in the race it seeks to influence. Instead, its fine print cites three Democrats seeking re-election in far-off districts.
Every election year produces its quirks and oddities, even dirty tricks. But the anti-Horner three-pack is a weird one, even by Florida standards.
Bill Cotterell is a retired reporter who covered government and politics for 44 years for United Press International and the Tallahassee Democrat.