Tuesday’s slate of elections in Florida certainly provided a list of winners and losers and I’m not just talking about the candidates. Here is my list of the real winners and losers. Let me know if I missed anyone.
The coalition behind Amendment 1 – With a small budget, working with a coalition of environmental groups headed by Will Abberger of the Trust for Public Land, and a diverse, bipartisan team, which included Sachs Media Group, the effort resulted in the only successful constitutional amendment on this year’s statewide ballot. It also represents the single biggest initiative and effective effort of Florida’s environmental community.
Jeff Atwater – Dude received more votes than any other Republican in Florida. He’s already being underestimated in the potential gubernatorial primary between him and Adam Putnam, but something tells me he has other plans in mind. A challenge to Bill Nelson, maybe?
Pat Bainter/Data Targeting – Repeating what I said after the primary: if there hadn’t been the redistricting case earlier this year, it’s likely very few people outside of Tallahassee would ever know about Bainter or his firm. But what they should know is, very quietly, Data Targeting is, arguably, the most complete, most dominant political consulting firm in Florida.
Sarah Bascom, Bascom Communications and Consulting – At the beginning of the year, who would have believed that David Jolly would be a congressman and the medical marijuana initiative would be defeated? One person was central to both of those underdog campaigns: Sarah Bascom, who, by the way, also just saw one of her mentors, John Thrasher, become president of Florida State University.
Jeb Bush – His out-front advocacy and whistle-stop tour came to the rescue of a faltering GOP incumbent governor showing that the Jeb! coattails are a stronger ride that a sitting president.
Capitol Consulting – The campaign consulting firm linked with lobbying shop Corcoran & Johnston – a firm that has been all in with Rick Scott since the beginning – had victories for House candidates Blaise Ingoglia and Danny Burgess. This on top of its clients who won earlier this year, including Reps. Jake Raburn and Dan Raulerson.
Capitol Insight – Earlier this year, Florida Trend wrote that Dean Cannon‘s lobbying shop, along with The Rubin Group, stood to benefit the most from a Scott re-elect. Well, that just happened, so look for this firm to fully leverage its relationship with the Governor’s Office.
Dwight Dudley – He’s the last pure legislative Democrat (sorry, Darryl Rouson) standing in Pinellas and he should be in good shape in 2016 when it will be a better playing field for Democrats. With that, Dudley has a good shot at being the first state representative from HD 52/68 to hold the seat for four terms since 2006.
Tre’ Evers, J.J. Whitson, Consensus Communications – On July 28, Quinnipiac Polling Institute released a poll showing that 88 percent of Florida voters would allow use of marijuana for medical purposes. Eighty freaking eight percent. Before Sheldon Adelson ponied up any money or John Morgan put his foot in his mouth, the only people standing between Amendment 2 and passage were Evers, Whitson, and Co. who managed the Vote No On 2 campaign to the biggest upset of the cycle.
Food Policy Action – The advocacy group led by ‘Top Chef’ Tom Colicchio spent $34,000 to help defeat food stamp opponent Steve Southerland.
Brett Doster, Front Line Strategies – Besides helping Pam Bondi and Adam Putnam to re-election, Doster’s firm guided three candidates — Bob Cortes, Jay Fant, and Jay Trumbull — through tough primaries and then general election wins. Cortes’ win over Democratic incumbent Karen Castor Dentel was especially impressive.
The Gwen Graham campaign – Julia Gill Woodward, Eric Conrad, and some guy named Steve Schale, were the impressive behind-the-scenes team behind the most impressive candidate of the election cycle.
The Jeff Brandes machine – Jim Rimes, Nick Hansen, Chris Spencer, and Co. have battled through four tough elections in four years and have never looked the worse for wear. Now Brandes doesn’t have to run again until 2018, giving him plenty of time to do what he likes best: tinker on innovative legislation (Google Car, Uber) designed to drag Florida into the 21st century.
Arthenia Joyner – With Charlie Crist losing and House Democrats getting decimated, the incoming Minority Leader in the Florida Senate may have a big role to play in 2015-16.
Lenny Curry – Technically, the former chair of the Republican Party turned Jacksonville mayoral candidate can’t take credit for Scott’s win and the Florida GOP’s trouncing of its Democratic counterparts, but the RPOF that won on Tuesday was built, in part, by Curry. Plus, Scott’s strong showing in Duval County/Jacksonville bodes well for Curry’s effort to unseat Jacksonville mayor Alvin Brown.
Duke Energy – Made to be the bogeyman of the 2014 elections, Duke ends up in the Winners’ column because its three-decade old foe, Crist, has been mortally defeated. Who cares how many times the words Duke Energy were used in political commercials this cycle, so long as Crist did not get elected. Bonus points for no longer having to worry about Crist appointing Mike Fasano to the Public Service Commission.
David Johnson – Helped quarterback Carlos Curbelo to victory over Democratic incumbent Joe Garcia. More important, with GOP hegemony in Florida and two Floridians considering a bid for The White House, you can expect to see Johnson quoted often by national media outlets like the New York Times.
Eric Johnson – Two years ago, political prognosticators gave Patrick Murphy not much more than a fair chance of knocking off incumbent Republican Allen West in a GOP-tilting district (Mitt Romney carried it with 52 percent of the vote), but beat West he did. Almost as soon as Murphy headed to D.C., he became a prime target for the GOP. On Tuesday, Murphy scored 60 percent — more than Lois Frankel received in a safe Democratic seat. Johnson killed the opposition early, defined his opponent quickly and kept Murphy front and center to his constituents. Johnson’s challenge now is to keep Murphy from wasting his career on a futile bid against Marco Rubio in 2016.
Majority Strategies – Republican candidates spent more than $7.8 million with the Ponte Vedra Beach direct mail shop.
Mentzer Media Services – The RPOF, Bondi and Sen. Joe Negron spent $8.3 million with the Towson, Md. media company.
Multi Media Service Corporation – $69.3 million! That’s how much Scottworld and the RPOF paid to the Virginia-based media buying firm. Sure, most of that money was passed on to television stations, but not all of it, meaning MMSC did very well just for telling the folks who walked into the barbershop that they needed a haircut.
Meredith O’Rourke – Campaign money doesn’t grow on trees. Well, maybe it does on the trees growing in O’Rourke’s back yard. The GOP fundraiser helped raise tens of millions of dollars for Scottworld — almost enough that Scott only had to invest $12 million of his own dollars into his re-election. O”Rourke’s reward? A seven-figure payday for her firm and a little revenge against Crist, who reportedly OK’ed O’Rourke’s substantial pay cut when she was at the Republican Party of Florida and he was governor.
Parents – How would they have told their children to “Just Say No” if that message was undermined by language in our state constitution that, in all reality, facilitated legalized marijuana?
Strategic Image Management – Anthony Pedicini’s consulting firm took out two Democratic incumbents.
Southern Strategy Group, Ballard Partners, Ron Book, P.A., Capital City Consulting, Floridian Partners, Johnson & Blanton, and the rest of the state lobbying corps, which collected over $400 million in fees the last two years. With Scott re-elected and Republican majorities in the House and Senate, is there any reason to think they won’t keep collecting those fees?
Mac Stipanovich – One of the lesser-known stories of this cycle is how Mac the Knife tired of reading about polls showing Scott losing, stepped in and authorized his own set of polls via SEA. Stipanovich then leaked the poll results, which happened to show Scott leading, to the Miami Herald‘s Marc Caputo, insuring that the narrative during the last 10 days of the campaign shifted. Scott may not know it, but he owes Stipanovich.
Frank Terraferma – The mastermind — again — behind the Florida GOP’s unthinkable two-to-one majority in the Florida House avoids the spotlight, yet constantly delivers for his party. If there is any one person most responsible for Republican hegemony in the Legislature, it’s Frank Terraferma, who has never been content with the GOP holding just a slight majority. I believe Terraferma would compete in 100 districts if enough credible Republicans filed to run. Terraferma’s best work this cycle? It’s not the incumbent protections or the flipping of battleground seats, it was the sneak attack on Joe Saunders in HD 49, where Barack Obama won 59 percent of the vote. As long as Terraferma is working for the RPOF, no Democrat is safe.
Ashley Walker, Steve Vancore, Screven Watson – As the top Democratic strategists not associated with either the Crist campaign or the Florida Democratic Party, Walker, Vancore, and Watson are entitled to a lot of “I told you so’s.” They’ll also likely be asked to lead state Democrats out of the wilderness in time for the 2016 election cycle.
Dana Young – The incoming Majority Leader of the Florida House worked her tail off helping other Republicans get elected to the Legislature. One of her colleagues called her the hardest working woman in politics.
Will Weatherford – Forget what the Tampa Bay Times has written about you, after two years of you leading the Florida House, voters decided to re-elect all of your members and replace six Democrats with Republicans. What a political legacy!
Adam Putnam – Most pundits have the Ag. Commissioner in the Winners Circle after Tuesday’s results and there’s no doubting Putnam is one of the best brands in the business. But you have to wonder, wouldn’t he have a better shot at the Governor’s Mansion if he were running to unseat Crist rather than having to compete in a wide-open primary and then face a fresh-faced Democrat like Bob Buckhorn or Gwen Graham?
Bob Buckhorn – Some have suggested that Hizzoner belongs in the Winners’ column because, with Crist sent packing, the Tampa mayor is now the frontrunner for the 2018 Democratic nomination for governor. First of all, good luck with that, Bob, you’re the standard bearer for the gang who can’t shoot straight. Second, just what Florida Democrats need — another dude from Tampa Bay who will have trouble turning out South Florida Democrats. Third, there’s a way about doing these things and Buckhorn’s mentioning of himself as a contender not less than 24 hours after the election is a reminder of the Buckhorn who can grate on people.
Justin Day – The Tampa-based lobbyist would have banked like few others had Crist been elected. Oh well, he’s still better dressed than everyone not named Nick Iarossi. And he’ll be a big player in the 2016 presidential race.
Chris Dorworth – Fortunately for Dorworth, he’s out of legal trouble. That said, it must be bittersweet for Dorworth, who should be bestriding over a super-majority in the Florida House.
Dan Gelber – Senator Gravitas was passed over for the LG spot and he won’t be leading Crist’s transition team, but, hey, it wasn’t his name on the ballot. He’s only lost once and is still viable for a future statewide run.
Jamie Grant – Due to legal wrangling more complex than a class-action lawsuit against a tobacco company, the voters of Grant’s House District 64 today find themselves technically without a state representative. The 1st District Court of Appeal issued a two-line decision Tuesday denying Grant’s request for the votes not to be counted in the election. The appellate judges sent the case back to circuit Judge Angela Dempsey to address a special election. Meanwhile, Grant could miss out on key leadership and committee assignments. Grant may have the last laugh, however, as some smart folks believe the term-limit clock on Grant has been reset by all of this legal maneuverings.
Bill Nelson – The senior U.S. senator is among the Top 5 external factors why Crist lost — oh how things would have been different for Crist had Nelson draped his arm around Crist in January. But he’s still the only Democrat elected statewide in Florida. Good luck with that come 2018, another midterm election, when Nelson will likely not be blessed with running against another Katherine Harris or Connie Mack.
Steve Schale – You know, in retrospect, Crist and Schale just didn’t seem to mesh. I may be wrong, but there just was something off. I can’t put my finger on it, but it was there! I do know there were at least three times others in Cristworld had to talk Schale out of quitting the campaign, which tells me that while Schale’s heart was in this one, maybe his mind wasn’t. A turning point in the relationship may have been when Bill Nelson wouldn’t do enough to convince the media he would not run for governor if Crist stumbled. Schale had told Crist that Nelson would not run and he didn’t, but the issue was not handled the right way. Schale has helped win two presidential campaigns and run the Democrats’ House campaign arm during its one decent cycle (2006), so it’s not clear what he does next, except lobby the handful of Democrats still relevant in Tallahassee and work the speaking circuit, talking about what might have been and Hillary! Updated – I’ve moved Schale into the Mixed Bag column because, as so many have already pointed out, he did lead the effort in one of only two congressional pick-ups this cycle for the Democrats.
John Morgan – This election cycle’s biggest loser is the Orlando trial lawyer who employed the losing gubernatorial candidate and bankrolled the failed Amendment 2 campaign. In both cases, had Morgan done things differently, the results may have been turned out differently. Morgan could have donated more and earlier to Crist’s campaign. And he could have not made the medical marijuana campaign so much about John Morgan. What’s gross is that Morgan keeps telling the media how good for business the Amendment 2 campaign has been for his law firm. For a future medical marijuana initiative to pass, one thing has to happen: John Morgan and his ego have to get out of the way.
Trial lawyers – You know how sometimes there is a really sh*tty movie released that, despite the bad reviews and poor showing at the box office, gets greenlighted for a sequel? Well, that’s kinda what happened with the Florida Justice League, which had its lunch handed to it in the primary, yet somehow had a worse night last Tuesday. I don’t know what the Legislature can do to inflict further damage on trial lawyers, but I am sure the Republicans will find some way to punish them.
Scott Arceneaux – Being executive director of the Florida Democratic Party may be the worst high-profile job in state politics, so my tendency is to cut Arceneaux some slack, but this dude has been in charge of the ship during its crash into an iceberg, so he’s gonna have to go, right?
Pam Bondi – Yeah, yeah, yeah, she won re-election, but she gets no style points in how she did it. In an alternate universe, she’d actually have been bounced by a better-financed, more organized Democratic opponent. But she was running against George Sheldon, so Bondi’s, um, presence was enough to carry the day. Unfortunately for Bondi, the ride probably stops here unless she can do something to turn around the diminishing public perception of her. First, however, she has to get past a brewing scandal unearthed by the New York Times about lobbyists with unprecedented access to her office.
Kevin Cate – There are few in Tallahassee who would have benefited more by a Crist win than the Democratic communications specialist, but instead Cate finds himself on the losing end of gubernatorial campaign — again. He’s going to need a really good Christmas video this year to make politicos forget about that.
Karen Castor Dentel, Mark Danish, Joe Saunders, and Carl Zimmermann – State Senator John Legg brings up a good question: Would the governor’s race and/or the House races involving these Democratic incumbents have turned out differently had anti-school choice advocates not sued over the state’s voucher program?
Mike Fasano – There were few more vocal proponents of Crist than the former lawmaker turned Pasco County Tax Collector. God bless!
Ceasar Fernandez – A year ago, he was the Golden Boy for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. Today, there are a lot of complaints about the political operation of the Crist campaign, including its failure to connect with other Democratic elected officials. That was part of Fernandez’ portfolio. It was his first time on a statewide campaign, so it will be interesting to see where he lands during the 2016 cycle.
Firefighter and police unions – The men and women in uniform were all in for Crist — the firefighters went so far as to commandeer a big yellow bus to tour the state — and have been donating heavily to Jack Latvala’s political committees. That’s two big bets that have come up short. Look for pension reform, designed to gut the benefits of municipal employees like cops and firefighters – to make a comeback next legislative session.
Jack Latvala – The Pinellas state senator is on my list of Tampa Bay winners simply because he was re-elected by a wide margin and his son, Chris, was elected to the Florida House. But statewide, the maverick lawmaker is running out of rabbits to pull out of his hat. Ellyn Bogdanoff losing in Senate District 34 may be the end of the line for Latvala’s Senate President aspirations. At what point does Latvala just go along to get along?
Florida’s media establishment – After transitioning from its traditional liberal bias to an all-in active strategy of affirmatively campaigning against Scott, Florida’s press corps is facing four more years of dealing with the least transparent administration in modern Florida history. P.S. King Ranch what?
David Rancourt – Ah, the highs and lows of being the guy behind the guy. One of Crist’s most trusted advisers and friends, Rancourt was hours away from backing up the truck in Tallahassee had his former fraternity brother won. But Crist didn’t and so all Rancourt is left with what might have been. Once one of the most prominent lobbyists in the state, Rancourt is a question mark to many in the state capital. He’s too smart and too connected to simply walk away, but what does Rancourt do now?
Christian Ulvert – As of this writing, Ulvert is still employed by the Florida Democratic Party, but after the Dems’ poor showing, including them being outmaneuvered in HD 49, he may not be for much longer.
Utility ratepayers – Guess who may have to subsidize higher interest rates on financing of utility infrastructure if rating agencies, such as Moody’s, again downgrade the credit rating of Florida utilities? This is partly due to politicians, such as Dwight Dudley, who convert anti-utility demagoguery into a stream of self-perpetuating votes from constituents who, unknowingly, will pay price.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz – I keep thinking about her saying the Sunday before the election that Democrats had a better ground game than Republicans. This is not being mean, but how does she keep her job as chair of the DNC after Tuesday’s debacle.
Bill Young II – Some candidates win, some candidates lose … that’s politics. But Young set himself up for a karma fail when he decided to back Rep. Eric Eisnaugle for House Speaker in 2021-22 over his friend Representative-elect Chris Sprowls. It would have been a smart political move had Young won, but he didn’t so now he’s on the outside. But something tells me Young will be back.