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Politics

As money pours in, campaign mud flies in race for District 16

In the Senate r ace, the barrage of negative attack ads may turn off potential voters.

By CURTIS KRUEGER
Published November 3, 2006


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Voters who want to know why the state Senate race between Kim Berfield and Charlie Justice has stayed so nasty for so long, can consider this old political advice: Follow the money.

Republican Berfield raised nearly $800,000 and Democrat Charlie Justice raised nearly $200,000, according to the most recent reports, which are 2 weeks old. But even this million-dollar barrage doesn't tell it all.

The state Democratic and Republican parties are shoveling in additional heaps of cash so the candidates can send you mailings saying "KIM BERFIELD HOPES YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT SHE DID" and "Liberal Charlie Justice Wants to RAISE Your Taxes!"

And third-party groups also are financing their own flurries of fliers. One is All Children Matter, which is supporting Berfield by blanketing the district with thousands of hard-hitting fliers that make claims such as "Charlie Justice is putting our children in harm's way."

The combatants in state Senate District 16 are seeking to replace Jim Sebesta, who is retiring from representing the Senate district that covers eastern Pinellas and western Hillsborough counties.

"With these two folks having the capacity to go negative early and experience with these kinds of things, I think it got uglier faster and it has stayed that way," said Scott Paine, a University of Tampa associate professor of government and communications, who also is a former Tampa City Council member.

The money has paid for so much advertising that some speculate voters may be tuning it out. Even Justice acknowledged, "there is a saturation level, and I think people have heard something about this race by now."

Early on, candidates and consultants said the race would be among the most competitive state Senate races in Florida, because each candidate is considered to have a reasonable shot at victory. It has led the two parties to pour money into the race.

In the most recent month's campaign reports, the GOP has given more. The state party gave Berfield $24,000 in cash Oct. 12, and $24,000 on Sept. 26, as well as $81,000 in in-kind contributions for expenses such as staff and polling.

The state Democratic Party gave Justice $4,000 on Oct. 3 and $3,000 on Sept. 29.

But Justice said the party also has directly paid for its own mailings, just as the Republican Party has been doing for Berfield.

Berfield acknowledged the Republican Party's contributions have been a help to her campaign, but said the Democratic Party probably has been equally as supportive of Justice.

The negativity in most campaigns starts slower, if at all, Paine said. Incumbents tend to emphasize their positive aspects, and challengers criticize them. But since challengers tend to be underfinanced, they save their attacks for the end.

In this race, neither Berfield nor Justice is an incumbent. But after serving six years each in the state House, both have had the contacts to raise money and make their attacks early.

[Last modified November 3, 2006, 06:09:45]


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