Democrats sparing with Senate race cash
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
State Senate candidate Joseph "Steve" Mattingly is facing the Catch-22 of name recognition problems.
Because few voters have heard of him, he needs campaign funds for billboards and mailings. But the Florida Democratic Party says it won't give him any money -- because few people know who he is.
Mattingly, a political newcomer, faces this quandary in his race against former Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon in the Democratic primary for the District 11 seat. The vote is on Sept. 10. The winner will run against Republican state Rep. Mike Fasano in the November general election for the district, which stretches from Dunedin in Pinellas County to the Citrus-Levy county line.
Cannon is the choice of the state party, which has given him more than $27,000 worth of in-kind campaign management and polling services, according to his campaign documents.
Cannon has also raised $22,825 in contributions through Aug. 16.
By comparison, Mattingly, a retired auto worker from Shady Hills, has raised $1,326. The state party has given him nothing.
"It's totally unfair," Mattingly said. "It's been my understanding that your parties don't endorse people until after the primary."
Without much help, Mattingly says he's been hitting the highways, waving his signs in rush-hour traffic and meeting with as many people as possible.
"This is a great big slam to me," he said. "I'm doing everything humanly possible I can do as an individual."
The state party members say they don't mean to be unfair, but they are helping Cannon because they asked him to enter the race.
"Mr. Cannon was actively recruited by our Senate campaign (division)," said Ryan Banfill, spokesman for the state Democratic Party. "He brings a very solid record of serving that area to this race and would be a very tough candidate against Mr. Fasano."
Banfill says the party is not telling voters whom to choose. But he said it needs to be realistic about where it spends its resources.
"We dropped (Mattingly's) name in polls, and he just doesn't show up," said Joe Perry, the finance director for the Senate division of the Florida Democratic Party. "It would be a real tough race for him to win. . . . We are in the business of winning these races."
Cannon, meanwhile, says he is not taking the primary for granted, though his attacks are reserved for Fasano. He almost never mentions Mattingly unless asked.
Cannon's first big salvo in the race targeted Fasano by accusing him of voting for a pay raise in the Legislature. But it backfired when he failed to uncover the fact that Fasano hasn't accepted a pay raise in seven years and only supported the pay increase for his colleagues because it was part of the larger annual budget.
Cannon and Mattingly agree on many issues.
Both say they believe the state has done a poor job funding education and providing adequate health care for working people and the elderly.
Mattingly wants to grant health care coverage and prescription drug benefits to the working poor who do not qualify for Medicaid. This would be funded by a 10-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes. He favors higher liquor taxes to pay for new school construction.
Cannon supports a review of the state sales tax exemptions to come up with money to pay for education and health care.
Cannon says he has the experience to get his goals accomplished.
Cannon was elected Pasco County sheriff in 1992 but lost the election in 2000, defeated by unknown Republican candidate Bob White, who was strongly supported by Fasano. Cannon also has been a prosecutor and a lawyer in private practice. Mattingly volunteers in the Spring Hill area on senior issues and is an Army veteran of the Vietnam War.
No matter who wins on Sept. 10, the candidates will need to work feverishly to establish name recognition beyond Pasco County, which has the largest concentration of residents in the district, at 46 percent. Pinellas holds the second largest block of residents at 37 percent. Hernando is next at 15 percent, followed by Citrus with 2 percent.
"Certainly we will be spending some money in Pinellas County to increase the name recognition," Cannon said.
That's where contributions for advertisements and signs could enter the picture. But if Mattingly's war chest looks small compared with Cannon's, the former sheriff's contributions of over $22,000 are minuscule compared with Fasano's -- more than $204,000 as of Aug. 16.
Cannon says he's not worried. Provided he wins the primary, Cannon said he'll follow up on meet-and-greets with voters in northern Pinellas and by seeking more party support.
"We'll sit down and decide what we'd like to do and what can be done," Cannon said. He said he's on an "even footing" with Fasano in Pinellas.
Perry of the Democratic Party said that if Cannon wins the primary and is competitive in polls against Fasano, the party could dump a lot of money into his campaign.
"It makes $200,000 versus $20,000 much less important," Perry said. "If you have a shot, we're going to look at being there for you."
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