Musings from former state Senate candidate Judithanne McLachlan

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Senator Jeff Brandes and his team of supporters are surging ahead with legislative priorities in Florida now that another term has been secured. But things are also bright and shiny for the opponent he defeated.

USF St. Pete Professor Judithanne McLauchlan is still tying up loose campaign ends even though she won’t have a seat at the table during the next legislative session. That includes making sure yard signs are removed and finalizing any unsettled campaign finance issues.

McLauchlan gave Brandes a run for his money. Literally. Brandes raised more than $800,000 for his re-election. That’s about $500,000 more than McLauchlan brought in. Despite the huge funding gap, McLauchlan still managed to bring in 43 percent of the vote. She lost by double digits, but it was still considered a good showing for a first-time candidate against a popular incumbent.

“I never thought it was going to be easy,” McLauchlan said.

Now that it’s all over, McLauchlan said there’s not much she thinks she could have done differently, but she has had plenty of time to dissect what happened during the contentious off-year election.

McLauchlan said an onslaught of campaign mailers and TV ads likely did her in.

In one mailer, Brandes’ campaign labeled McLauchlan “Taxzilla.” A graphic in the background shows a menacing looking prehistoric reptile of some sort and a smiling McLauchlan next to a laundry list of tax-related blunders. Among them, a claim that the Democrat supports a state income tax. It’s a claim the political science professor vehemently denies. She attributes the claim to her membership in the League of Women Voters. That group’s guide to public policy positions states, “The LWVF supports the adoption of a state personal income tax as one part of a balanced and equitable tax structure.”

“Our Florida constitution prohibits a state income tax,” McLauchlan said. “The truth of the matter is my views are irrelevant on that matter.”

That same claim was aired in a television commercial supporting Brandes, but paid for by an outside group. In the mailer, Brandes’ campaign also drew attention to McLauchlan’s bankruptcy filing 16-years ago and her travels to Moldova as a Fulbright Scholar.

“That’s a big honor, it’s not a vacation, but if you read his mail pieces, I wouldn’t vote for me either, I guess,” McLauchlan said. She laughed as she remembered telling a friend she met while researching in Muldova that she was in a campaign mailer in Florida.

Those attacks were damning. People who saw claims of rampant taxation and irresponsible personal finance were not always the same sort of people to have access to information countering or clarifying the claims.

But McLauchlan wasn’t alone in being the subject of negative ads. She repeatedly spoke out in public forums and in her own campaign mailers against Brandes’ ties to corporate money and his constant refusal to accept $51 billion in federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid program to nearly one million Floridians.

Early in the campaign Brandes responded to her efforts with a campaign mailer asking why McLauchlan was going negative so early. She, of course, doesn’t see it that way instead saying she was only pointing out things Brandes had actually done.

Regardless of her campaign retrospective, there’s nothing McLauchlan can do to turn back the clock. She hopes the devastating results for Democrats both statewide and throughout the nation will prompt more voters to get to the polls in 2016 and Democratic leadership to do a better job of building its bench.

“After the election I was so sad. I wasn’t sad for me,” McLauchlan said. “I’m a college professor, I love my job, we live at the beach, I’ve got a nice family. I’m fine. I didn’t need that to spend my time banging my head up against a wall in Tallahasse, but what I was so sad for was the people who are not going to have, with Rick Scott re-elected and Brandes, now there’s just no chance.”

As for another run for the state legislature, McLauchlan echoes what so many failed candidates say – never say never.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.