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On Endorsements

in Peter/The Bay and the 'Burg by

Are endorsements helpful in state legislative races? Of course they are. When one candidate earns a majority of endorsements, like Charles Gerdes has in the Democratic Primary for House District 53, then that has to count for something.

Often, though, the slate of endorsements are spread out among each of the candidates in a race. The Realtors endorsed this candidate, the PBA endorsed that candidate and so on. Sometimes, a candidate wins all of the “Democratic” endorsements, like ones from the trial lawyers and teachers unions, while another candidate garners the support of the obvious “Republican” organizations, such as chambers of commerce. And, of course, there are natural endorsements, like when an organization’s member runs for office and earns their endorsement, i.e., Nancy Riley winning the support of the Realtors.

It’s only when a candidate earns the majority of the endorsements, a “cross-over” endorsement or a key early endorsement that the support really matters. I made the argument last week that the Firefighters endorsement of Democrat Liz McCallum was a major coup for her campaign because it is an example of a “cross-over” endorsement. The Firefighters have supported the GOP candidate in this race for at least the last eight years, but now they have switched their support to the Democrat. That, in and of itself, is news.

But I’d like to hear what you think: which organization’s endorsement matters most around here? Is it the PBA or the Firefighters, whose support indicates a candidate’s strength on law and order issues. Is it the PCTA (teachers), whose endorsement matters most when talking about education. Or is it the Realtors, with their high visibility and strong fundraising capability. Here’s my list, from most important on down:

Firefighters — polling indicates that their endorsement matters most to voters, at least since 9/11. Almost by definition, having the firefighters on your side, allows a candidate to boast about their public safety credentials. The local firefighters aren’t viewed as highly partisan, so their objectivity boosts their credibility. The FFs also provide a lot of on-the-ground manpower, especially when it comes to distributing signs. The only downside of the firefighters endorsement is that it doesn’t come with a lot of money attached. These are civil servants after all.

MDs — just look what the MDs are doing in Kim Berfield’s race, providing her with a $100K fundraising advantage over chiropractor Frank Farkas. That’s the biggest advantage of their support: money. Although doctors are notoriously frugal, when they do decide to pull out their checkbooks, they can write a hefty sum. The MDs are represented well statewide by Sandy Mortham. Locally, they were stronger when John Hamilton was more involved, but they are still a force. Voters are increasingly sympathetic to general practitioners and so their support adds a lot in races where health care is an important issue. There are two disadvantages to having the doctors’ support: they’re not especially strong on the ground (don’t expect an MD to walk door-to-door for you) and their support automatically earns a candidate the opposition of the trial lawyers.

Realtors — You’ve got to give the Realtors credit for improving their game. They’re strong on the ground because of their high visibility and they’ve improved their fundraising efforts. The reason why I like the Realtors so much is the leadership offered by local operative Mike Mayo, a former Crist staffer that has expanded the portfolio of the Realtors issues. Mayo commissioned a poll and brought attention to the teacher salary issue, which is, at first, not a natural issue for the real estate industry, but makes sense when he explains that education and quality of life issues matter increasingly to Realtors. The Realtors wholesale support of Nancy Riley in H-50 will give them a major voice in the Florida Legislature. Its the Realtors lack of a relatively strong statewide effort that diminishes their strength. Also, having the Realtors on your side doesn’t lend itself to any credibility on the major issues.

Trial Lawyers — What a double-edged sword it is to have the support of trial lawyers…to have their support means that you can be accused of having their support and we all know how popular trial lawyers are. Personally, I dig trial lawyers. In many cases, they are society’s last defense against total corporate control. But so many of the trial lawyers are “political cowboys” or “one-man wrecking machines,” acting on their own and, oftentimes, against each other. But their money is what matters. With a few academy members on your side, a candidate can finance an entire campaign. Just look out for the opposition you’ll draw from every other major interest group. Locally, the trial lawyers need a few more wins before they move up the charts.

Teachers — It used to mean so much to have the support of the teachers. This was when Jade Moore was a major force in political circles. He still has some juice, but even he’ll tell you it’s hard to have much impact when most of the legislative delegation won’t let you into their office. The teachers have backed some real losers over the last eight years, but that’s only because the Democratic Party hasn’t offered them better candidates to support. Having the PCTA’s support gives any candidate instant credibility on education issues and provides a campaign with a large network of grassroots activists. They can even offer some money because the statewide network of teachers’ unions, the TIGER PACs, coordinate their financial support. The teachers need a win in 2006 to regain their status.

Well, that’s my Top 5. What’s your’s?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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