Media lesson from Tuesday's election: Money only wins if you've got a message
One cynic on my Facebook page summed up Tuesday's primary results with a rueful message: "$26-million isn't enough to buy an election -- it takes $50-million."
But while GOP gubernatorial winner Rick Scott certainly pulled out all the financial stops in blanketing Florida's pricey media market with his advertisements, he suceeded where Democratic billionaire Jeff Greene did not for another reason.
He had an effective message and a coherent campaign.
Scott's plainspoken image and crafty tapping of anti-establishment sentiment began early and was relentless across the airwaves, with commercials ridiculing opponent Bill McCollum's stance on anti-immigration legislaton and his ties to disgraced state Republican party leader Jim Greer. Green never had as strong a message, didn't really jump into the race until opponent Kendrick Meek had been campaigning for a long while, and had personal issues stemming from how he earned his forture and ties to controversial boxer Mike Tyson that didn't help.
Indeed, the ultimate message of Tuesday's results, given the Scott only won by 3 points, may be that you need $50-million to overcome the massive advantage of being an establishment candidate like Meek and McCollum.
For an election which turned on a blanket of media images, Tuesday's results reports were surprisingly fireworks free, beyond McCollum refusing to concede when the state's TV stations were poised to record it after 10:30 p.m.
"This is going to go into the wee hours," McCollum told supporters just before 11 p.m., blowing apart rumors on Twitter from the Washington Post and St. Petersburg Times that he was going to concede in time for Scott to give triumphant victory speech for the late night newscasts. Seconds after that speech, the Associated Press called the race for Scott and he gave that speech anyway; McCollum would concede later, away from the glare of continuous media coverage. (demerits to Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8, which cut away from Scott's live victory speech to feature punditizing from Susan MacManus)
As has become the habit in today's media saturated age, Twitter was the place to be as the results flowed in, with high profile reporters such as NBC News politics wonk Chuck Todd posting messages ranging from odd results across the country to fake decriptions of a tight race in Vermont in the folksy style of ex-CBS anchor Dan Rather (dubbed "Ratherisms")
The big questions left: Will Florida GOP embrace an outsider candidate to keep control of the Governor's office, and will Scott accept them? Can candidates like Scott and GOP attorney general candidate Pam Bondi, who ran on Tea Party-friendly, hard right positions, moderate their stances enough to win the state's wide pool of indepedent voters?
Will Crist, who craftily avoids saying who he will caucus with if elected as an independent to the Senate (better to try convincing moderate Demcorats to vote for him as a realistic contender than long-shot Meek), get tired of the other question he'll hear evey day until November:
"Who you voting for, Sink or Scott?"
What will local TV stations do with the windfall of cash coming from these candidates battling it out over the airwaves in the next two months? And can any of us stand another eight weeks of attack ads blanketing local TV?
Say what you will about Florida elections, but they've never been boring. And the tradition continues.