I would like to outline some of the pros and cons, from a purely political standpoint, of why Bob Hackworth should have run for the District 45 seat of the Florida House of Representatives rather than the seat currently held by Susan Latvala on the Pinellas County Commission. This is the text of a memorandum I wrote to him (albeit unsolicited) when I learned he was considering a run.
Perhaps the best way to sum up the difference between the two possible campaigns is to use a line from the movie Days of Thunder, when Robert Duvall explains to Tom Cruise the difference between racing Indy cars and NASCAR: “When you were racing open wheels, the tires were twice as wide and the car weighed half as much. Now the car weighs twice as much and the tires are half as wide, and you’re burning them up.”
If you run for the Florida House, you will be able to raise a significant amount of money and face less media scrutiny for a campaign targeting a manageable number of likely voters within a relatively small geographic area
If you run for the Pinellas County Commission, it will be difficult to raise the requisite amount of money to win, while facing intense media scrutiny for a campaign targeting more voters than you can personally reach within a relatively large geographic area.
Please allow me to break down each of those points:
In a race for the Florida House, you can expect to raise a significant amount of money, not only from your personal network of supporters, but from statewide interests supportive of a strong Democratic candidate. As for what the Florida Democratic Party will contribute to the race, their support will likely not be there (or needed) until the very end. I estimate you will be able to (and need to) raise $100,000 on your own from your personal network, prominent local Democrats and from statewide interests. On its own, this would almost be enough to beat a flawed Republican candidate. But the state GOP will likely support the eventual nominee with $250,000 to $500,000 in resources. Therefore, your campaign will need at least half as much of this amount to remain competitive.
The numbers are much smaller for a campaign for the Pinellas County Commission. To unseat an incumbent member of the Commission, I would think it would take at least $250,000 because there are so many likely voters in the district. And that would have to go to TV advertising because direct mailing the number of likely voters in a County Commission district is too large to mount a successful mailing campaign.
But who in Pinellas County is going to give your campaign the requisite amount of money to win? There just isn’t a large enough donor pool from which to raise the required amount of money.
And you certainly can’t depend on the local Democratic Party for any real money. The party’s record in local elections is embarrassing, especially at the county-wide level. In fact, it is this uphill battle you would have to fight that would be one of the biggest obstacles to your campaign. It’s a double-edge sword, because there so few other resources to depend on when mounting a county-wide campaign, you would have to depend on the Pinellas Democratic Party, but depending on the party means you are dependent on the party and all of its problems.
As for your opponent’s fundraising capacity, Commissioner Latvala will be able to raise a good deal of money, but faces the same logistical problems you do, except that as the incumbent, her name ID is likely much higher than yours. She will also have the benefit of whatever the local GOP does on behalf of the county-wide candidates.
There is also another factor to consider when discussing fundraising. Commissioner Latvala’s ex-husband, who, as you know, is running for the state Senate, will likely spend (or have spent on his behalf) $500,000 to $1 million in paid advertising for his campaign. In other words, if you run against Commissioner Latvala, you will also be running against Senator Latvala.
Although the expansion of new media, such as blogs and Twitter, have increased the level of scrutiny on all political campaigns, the media scrutiny you would face as a state House candidate would be much less significant than if you ran for the Pinellas County Commission.
Simply put, the St. Petersburg Times will not be paying attention to a state House race in North Pinellas/Pasco, which can be advantageous in a political campaign, whereas it may pay more attention to a County Commission race. To you, as a progressive Democrat, this may appear at first glance to be an advantage, but media scrutiny can be fickle. One misstep or miscue and, suddenly, the media attention you were depending on is now working against you.
In H-45, there are a total of about 41,000 registered voters, of which only half end up voting in the election, of which only half of that is needed to win. Meaning, in a competitive race for House District 45, to win, you have to persuade about 11,000 voters to turn out to vote. That’s certainly a manageable number with a six-figure budget.
In a County Commission race, in a member-district, there are about 175,000 registered voters, half of which vote, which means you need to persuade at least 40,000 voters to support you. That’s a tall order with a limited budget against an incumbent.
“When you were racing open wheels, the tires were twice as wide and the car weighed half as much. Now the car weighs twice as much and the tires are half as wide, and you’re burning them up.”
Obviously I have not discussed Mrs. Latvala’s record or any of the possible issues that may come up during the campaign. And that’s because I don’t think there is a clarion call for change on the Pinellas County Commission. Nor are there the issues necessary to make the case for change. The Jim Smith scandal? Spending? Taxes? In my humble opinion, I just don’t think there is enough on her or the Commission to warrant an insurgent campaign to replace her.