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In Jacksonville, Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry headed to photo finish

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Just over a year ago, the biggest Alvin Brown backer in 2011, Peter Rummell, made headlines when he renounced his previous support for the incumbent mayor and signaled his support for Lenny Curry, who had limited name recognition and was perceived by the Jacksonville media as having no real shot at displacing the mayor, whose approval ratings were in the 50s.

Since then, things have changed. Curry spent the better part of the year building name recognition while making the case, over and over again, that Alvin Brown had failed as a mayor. Failed when it’s come to public safety, improving equitability of educational outcomes, especially as it relates to Pre K education. Failed when it comes to Jacksonville’s infrastructure. And so on.

In the First Election in late March, Curry came within 5 points of a first place finish, with Brown ahead 43 – 38 percent. Since then, polls have been a mixed bag. A recent St. Pete Polls survey had Curry up 49 -45 percent, a number which jibed with a Curry internal poll that had the Republican ahead 46 -42 percent. Democratic Party insiders make their off the record criticisms, and a couple of informed insiders have cited an internal poll on their side that has Brown ahead by 2 to 3 points. In short, headed into the final stretch of the race, it’s anyone’s guess who will win.

There are those in the policy side of the Brown universe who wonder what the campaign side is doing. They believe that the campaign has missed opportunities related to countermessaging endorsements for Curry from former GOP Mayors John Delaney and John Peyton, and flubbed other opportunities to message, such as scheduling a press conference at UF Health a week and a half ago, cancelling it, and then not rescheduling or sending out a press release on it to put forth what would have been the intended message.

There is some thought on that side that the campaign erred in bringing in people from outside of Florida, who didn’t understand that Jacksonville a very diverse city that requires more hyperlocal messaging than most people expect, to handle their communications.

Despite those shortcomings, by most accounts the margin is almost within the margin of error. This can be attributed to the power of incumbency, along with the Florida Democratic Party (which essentially runs this campaign) pouring whatever resources are necessary into this race so that they can hold this mayoralty.

The cross-party endorsement trend has also favored the Republicans. Former City Council Presidents Bill BishopAlberta Hipps, and Matt Carlucci, along with Councilmen Stephen Joost and Ray Holt, all have endorsed Alvin Brown. For his part, Curry got an endorsement from former Democratic City Councilman Johnny Gaffney, while current Councilwoman Denise Lee has excoriated the Brown campaign for radio ads and literature that she believes is “race baiting.”

With a week of Early Voting already completed, the raw turnout difference between Democrats and Republicans slightly favors Duval Dems: at this writing, the spread is 100 votes.

Despite that spread, the Curry campaign finds positives for their effort, and signs that Brown’s campaign has not resonated with Jacksonville voters.

“We are working hard to turn out our voters and like the way things are shaping up. This election will be close and Lenny is the underdog. Even with out-of-state paid canvassers costing Democrats hundreds of thousands of dollars, it took them a full week to catch the lead we built in absentee votes. So now it’s important for all Lenny supporters – Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – to get out and vote,” wrote Brian Hughes in an email.

Likely, Brown is going to have to spend the next week messaging to the base. With two debates left with Curry (the first one on Monday), one can expect Brown to continue moving to the left even as he messages against the Republican “party boss” and his “partisan, divisive” rhetoric. Curry, meanwhile, will continue his current messaging; resolutely positive, but, as he did in a recent ad and in the first debate, saying that while Alvin Brown is a nice guy and Curry likes him, he doesn’t demonstrate the requisite leadership to be mayor.

Thus bringing the whole thing back full circle to Peter Rummell’s critique of Mayor Brown last year. I spoke to Rummell briefly last week, at the opening of Curry’s headquarters in Avondale, and he was just as unsparing in his criticisms of Brown as he was last April, saying that supporting Brown was one of the five biggest mistakes of his career.

In the next nine days, Alvin Brown will have to find a way to prove Rummell wrong, swinging undecideds his way (which will be tough, given that a recent poll said that just 6% of undecided voters believed that Brown should be re-elected). Perhaps a high-profile national endorser coming to town on the mayor’s behalf next weekend might make the difference.

Has Air Force One been here lately?

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A.G. Gancarski has written a weekly column for Jacksonville’s Folio Weekly since 2003. His writings on politics, culture, and sport have appeared in the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, and the American Conservative. His radio and TV appearances include frequent contributions to WJCT-FM (Jacksonville’s Public Radio station); additionally, he has been a guest on Huff Post Live and the Savage Nation radio show. Gancarski can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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