Special Election is Giving Voters a Peek at Next Year
The hard-fought Jacksonville-area Senate race to be all-but-decided by Tuesday’s Republican primary may send echoes well into next year’s election season.
The race has featured leading candidates John Thrasher and Dan Quiggle alternately seizing anti-trial lawyer and smaller government themes, well-tested Republican motifs certain to resurface during the 2010 campaigns.
But the District 8 special election also has featured fierce television exchanges by murky 527 groups – giving rise to renewed calls from both parties for legislation requiring disclosure of contributions to these currently unregulated organizations.
“It’s a blood bath that’s going on now,” Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, who is leading Senate Democrats’ campaign efforts, said Monday. “But both parties ought to be concerned about what’s going on there. These 527s can work against both parties.”
Rich’s Republican counterpart, Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, have said they support taking another stab at legislation addressing such so-called electioneering communication organizations.
These organizations, dubbed 527s after a section of the federal tax code, face no limits in Florida since a federal court earlier this year declared unconstitutional a state requirement that they report donations and register with the Secretary of State.
Cannon has indicated legislation to impose new standards on 527s could be ready by a special legislative session expected to be held this fall. The swift demand for action on 527s may stem from the fact that trial lawyer allies, who typically side with Democrats, have been the biggest players in the District 8 race.
Stop Tax Waste, Inc., and Conservative Citizens for Justice have blistered Thrasher with TV spots attacking what they call wasteful spending during his years as House speaker and two ethics violations tied to his lobbying practice. Finance reports filed last week show the Florida Justice Association Political Action Committee, the trial bar’s campaign arm, recently steered $30,000 to the Conservative Citizens group and $25,000 to the Florida Consumer Alliance, which also works on behalf of trial lawyers.
Despite the targeting of Thrasher, the former Florida Medical Association lobbyist is believed to be leading narrowly over Quiggle, with two other Republicans, former Rep. Stan Jordan and Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham, further back.
Thrasher has won endorsements from area U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw and former Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been featured in three television spots.
Less than 15 percent of Republican voters in the district, which stretches from Jacksonville to Daytona Beach, are expected to cast ballots in Tuesday’s primary. The winner faces three write-in candidates in October’s general election.
Quiggle’s candidacy, though, has sternly tested Thrasher, who for months had been seen as the likely winner of the Senate seat, which became open more than a year ahead of schedule with this summer’s death of Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville.
Quiggle, who has appealed to Republican tea-party conservatives, has tarred Thrasher as a government-insider.
David E. Johnson, a pollster with Atlanta-based Strategic Vision, has followed the Florida Senate race and said Monday that the message developed by Quiggle has become common in campaigns across the country.
“Many Republicans feel that the party has lost its way and that they have to get back to their conservative roots,” Johnson said. “In primary elections, you’re seeing some pushing the idea that you have to root out these government insiders and start fresh.”
Watching the Jacksonville-area race with some interest is the U.S. Senate campaign of Marco Rubio, another former House speaker who instead has embraced a more maverick style in trying to out-muscle the heavily funded and popular Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican nomination next year.
Like Quiggle, Rubio is trying to be swept to victory on a tide of partisan distrust of big government, higher taxes, and eroding freedom. But Thrasher also has something Rubio wants.
“Sure, we’re watching this race and a lot of races to see what we can learn from the tea leaves,” said Alex Burgos, a Rubio spokesman. “But Thrasher has Jeb Bush’s endorsement. We’d love to have that.”