tampabay.com

Senate race becomes a slugfest of ads

Mailings show that neither Berfield or Farkas is pulling punches in the battle for District 16.

By MELANIE AVE
Published August 30, 2006


With the Republican primary less than a week away, the hotly contested Senate District 16 race is getting hotter by the day.

Two recent mailings from backers of each side take nasty swipes at the GOP contenders, Kim Berfield and Frank Farkas, who face off Tuesday.

And two television ads that the Florida Republican Party began airing in the Tampa Bay area last week blast Democratic candidate Charlie Justice, whose name isn't even on Tuesday's ballot.

The Republican primary winner faces Justice in the Nov. 7 general election.

The TV ad says: "Charlie Justice: Wrong for children. Wrong for families. Wrong for us. NO Justice."

The plethora of negative campaigning underscores the district's importance to both parties. The district, which covers eastern Pinellas and western Hillsborough counties, features three House members fighting to replace Republican incumbent Sen. Jim Sebesta, who is leaving office because of term limits.

But political observer Darryl Paulson calls the early GOP attack on Justice typical of Florida's campaign season.

"Softening the enemy is what they're doing," said Paulson, a government professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "You're trying to weaken and damage the opposition as much as possible.

"It's somewhat of a standard operating practice by Democrats and Republicans."

Republican Party spokesman Jeff Sadosky said the anti-Justice ads are the first for the GOP in a state Senate race.

"This is a Republican seat we are committed to holding on to," he said. "We wanted to make sure voters in that district know about Justice's record now."

Meanwhile, the two Republican candidates and their supporters are at each other's throats.

A recent 8-by-10-inch flier mailed to voters criticizes Berfield, 35, who works in advertising, for receiving tens of thousands of dollars from insurance firms. It was funded by HealthWatch Florida, which is backed by St. Petersburg chiropractor Donald Krippendorf. He could not be reached for comment.

It says of Berfield: "Our property insurance PAIN, is one of our legislator's GAIN."

Though the flier is not from the Farkas campaign, Farkas said the information "is documented and based on public record."

Berfield, who declined to comment on any of the campaign fliers or ads because she hasn't seen them, said she supports her constituents regardless of who gives her money.

"If you look at my record, there have been a number of times I voted against Tallahassee special interests," she said.

Another mailing shows a picture of a smirking little boy getting cookies from a jar and reads: "As a boy, 'lil Frankie Farkas developed a bad habit. ...Years later he got caught. Bad habits never die."

The flier criticizes Farkas, 50, a chiropractor, for a trip to Canada last year that was paid for by a gambling company. The ad was paid for by People for a Better Florida, a group heavily backed by the Florida Medical Association and physicians.

In recent weeks, Farkas linked Berfield to the Church of Scientology and Berfield backers criticized Farkas for provisions of a bill he supported four years ago that didn't cover mammograms.

Farkas and Berfield blame each other for the overall negative tone.

"They started negative from the get-go," Farkas said. "When you come to the battle with bullets and the other side has cannons, you have to change your tone."

Berfield said she can't speak for literature mailed by others, but "there has never been one piece of literature or phone call or any other type of mass mailing from this campaign that has been anything but positive."

Meanwhile, Justice said the GOP ads that trash his record are "completely misleading." But, he said, they are somewhat expected.

"When you have two people who have voted the same way for six years on the major issues, you're going to get down to personalities and these kind of attacks," he said. "They're not having to have a really healthy discussion on the issues."

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.