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Sticker may reap a bumper crop

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[Times photo: Patty Yablonski]
This political message, a salvo across the bumper by two Democratic candidates running against Republican candidate Katherine Harris for a congressional seat, signals open season for stickers.

By COLETTE BANCROFT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 15, 2002


''Anybody but Katherine'' is already spawning sticker spinoffs as the Democrats running against Katherine Harris plan to turn out others suggesting who ''anybody'' should be.

"Anybody but Katherine" is already spawning sticker spinoffs as the Democrats running against Katherine Harris plan to turn out others suggesting who "anybody" should be.

It's the first thing they teach you in Political Bumper Stickers 101 class: Always put your candidate's name on the sticker.

And the last thing you want on your bumper sticker is your opponent's name.

So why is Candice Brown McElyea, who's running for Congress in Southwest Florida's District 13, papering bumpers around Sarasota and Bradenton with a red, white and blue strip that says, "Anybody but Katherine"?

As in Katherine Harris, presidential election drama queen.

"There's a lot of anti-Harris sentiment around here," McElyea says. "A lot." Five hundred of the stickers (for a $5 donation each) flew out of her campaign headquarters in about a week. "It was word of mouth," says spokeswoman Patrice Webb.

There are seven people running in the District 13 primaries to take the place of retiring U.S. Rep. Dan Miller. But the one everyone has heard of -- unless you spent November and December of 2000 in a coma -- is Katherine Harris.

The granddaughter of citrus-and-cattle magnate Ben Hill Griffin was catapulted from a relatively low-profile job as Florida's secretary of state to the merciless glare of international media exposure by her pivotal role in the highly unusual election of George W. Bush.

It was Harris, of course, who certified the Florida vote total and halted recounts in some counties, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court upheld. For this she is generally regarded by Republicans as a patriot, and by Democrats as a partisan hack.

Floridians have voted to abolish the Cabinet post she holds as of January. She's running for Congress in a district that ranges from the cattle ranches and small towns of Hardee and De Soto counties and the fast-growing cities of Sarasota and Bradenton to upscale barrier islands such as Longboat Key, where Harris lives.

She has two opponents in the Republican primary, but given her fame and her powerful national fundraising machine, plus a newly drawn district that's 49 percent Republican, she's probably already musing over sketches from her decorator for her Capitol Hill office.

McElyea is one of the four Democrats who hope to get in her way. What would prompt a 27-year-old television reporter

(with SNN6, a local cable news channel in Sarasota) and political novice to plunge into the race for a congressional seat?

"Honestly, it was because Katherine Harris announced" she was running, McElyea says. "I thought, I don't want her representing me. I don't want her representing my district."

McElyea's name and face were known in the district's most populous county because of her TV work, but she was a newcomer to politics, and the sticker was a way to catch attention, she says.

“We wanted to make sure people don’t forget what happened (in the 2000 election) and the part that Katherine Harris played in it.”
Arlene Sweeting, candidate for the state House in District 68

Asked to comment on the sticker, a spokeswoman for Harris' campaign, Rori Smith, says, "When a candidate has no work experience, no life experience or a record of accomplishment to run on, they must run a negative campaign." End of interview.

In fact, the sticker wasn't McElyea's idea. It originated with a Manatee County group called Democrats in Action. Arlene Sweeting, an environmental activist and candidate for the state House in District 68 (in West Bradenton), is the group's vice president.

"We wanted to make sure people don't forget what happened (in the 2000 election) and the part that Katherine Harris played in it."

They came up with the sticker and printed 500 of them. "They were amazingly popular," Sweeting says. "We were selling them for a dollar, as a fundraiser for the club."

She says McElyea called them to ask if she could use the sticker. "We said sure. We offered them to all the other candidates, too."

The other candidate who plans to take them up on it is Jan Schneider, a Sarasota lawyer, author and Yale Law School classmate of Bill and Hillary Clinton (who have been the subject of a few bumper stickers of their own).

Schneider's campaign manager, Ben Kirby, says, "We are going to use it. But as Jan said, the slogan itself is cute and a good start, but it's not enough."

Schneider's campaign will soon offer on its Web site the "Anybody but Katherine" sticker and its own variation on the theme: "No one but Jan."

"It's the season for slogans," Kirby says.

photo   photo
Candice Brown McElyea is one of seven people running for Congress in Southwest Florida’s District 13. You may have heard of one of the other candidates: Katherine Harris.

The "Anybody but Katherine" slogan has already stirred up reaction. In May, McElyea's campaign aired a 30-second television ad. It includes quick shots, about four seconds each, of her with schoolchildren, seniors and, in one scene, four Sarasota County firefighters at a fire station. At the end, for a few seconds, it shows the bumper sticker.

McElyea says, "I got a call from the (firefighters) union guy saying, 'Harris' people called us, and they're putting a lot of pressure on us to pull out' " of the ad. This was before the ad had aired on television; apparently they had seen it on McElyea's Web site.

"The sticker struck a chord with them," she says, "because they were seeing it around town. But it was the ad they chose to attack."

Harris was quoted calling McElyea's spot an "attack ad," and her campaign said the firefighters who appeared in it had violated a Sarasota County policy forbidding county employees from political activity during work hours. (Harris had been endorsed by the firefighters union before the ad ran.)

Harris' campaign said McElyea should have known of the policy because her husband, Kevin McElyea, is a sergeant with the Sarasota Sheriff's Office.

Two of the four firefighters in the ad were reprimanded in late May by fire Chief Brian Gorski.

McElyea says that when they shot the footage, "No one knew about this policy -- not the firefighters, not the lieutenant (on duty at the station), no one."

And her husband's job didn't make her privy to it, she says. "The Sheriff's Office operates under its own set of rules."

She calls the pressure on the firefighters "unfortunate and unfair.

"When they (Harris' campaign) raised the question" about the ad, she says, "the whole thing just blew up."

So much so that the story was covered on CNN as well as in local media. McElyea's Web site started getting 5,000 hits a day.

She smiles cheerfully. "We couldn't have bought publicity like that."

McElyea has fundraisers this month from Destin to Miami, and she hopes to carry that effort outside the state as well. "We're up against a $2-million war chest. We have to fight fire with fire."

And, in addition to a new batch of the original bumper stickers, she's planning her own variation: "Not just anyone: Candice for Congress."

"A catchy slogan," she says, "can make you or break you."

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