BROOKSVILLE — As Election Day nears, the two candidates running for the 5th Congressional District seat are pulling out the big guns. Literally.
Not only is Land O'Lakes Democrat Jim Piccillo sinking money into a television commercial, but the 30-second spot features a photo of Piccillo sporting jeans, rolled-up shirtsleeves, a stern expression — and holding a military issue M-4 rifle with a collapsible stock and laser sight.
Meanwhile, Hernando County Sheriff Rich Nugent, the Republican in the race, announced on Tuesday the support of gun-loving rocker Ted Nugent (no relation).
A news release included a photo of Ted Nugent — a staunch conservative, avid hunter and passionate gun rights advocate — wearing a "Rich Nugent for Congress" T-shirt as he stands in front of a mantle over a stone fireplace piled high with animal antlers.
In the release, the sheriff calls the rocker "a great American" and says the two men have similar goals.
"We both want to see America's economy back on track, Americans back to work, and our country fully supporting our men and women in uniform," Rich Nugent said.
Piccillo's commercial starts out with a loud bang.
"He's fed up with special interests and career politicians ruining our country, and as a veteran of the 101st Airborne, he'll kick some butt to stop them," the narrator says in a tone fit for a movie trailer.
Then, after a rock guitar-driven instrumental kicks in, the narrator ticks off the reasons why voters should pick Piccillo over Nugent: He won't accept a congressional pay raise. He'll cut wasteful spending to reduce the deficit. And he will create new jobs by helping small businesses to start hiring again. The distinctive sound of a round sliding into a gun's chamber can be heard throughout the spot, emphasizing each point.
Conspicuously absent from the ad is Piccillo's party affiliation.
The commercial started airing Tuesday, and Piccillo says it's the first time a Democrat has paid for television time since the seat's current occupant Ginny Brown-Waite ran for re-election in 2004. Brown-Waite planned to run again this year but bowed out due to health issues and asked Nugent to run in her place.
Piccillo faces an uphill battle — some political analysts say a quixotic one — because the district boundaries have been carved out to favor GOP candidates. The district, which extends from Levy County to Polk County, includes all of Hernando County and much of Pasco County.
The district also has one of the highest numbers of veterans of any congressional district in the country, and Piccillo, a 36-year-old former financial auditor who now owns a small-business consulting firm, is emphasizing his military service. He served in the Army for six years, including roughly four years with the 101st Airborne. He did not see combat.
Still, why the gun?
Piccillo said the campaign's media consultant came up with the idea after asking the candidate to provide some photos that might be used for a spot. The photo was taken during a National Guard exhibit in Levy County on the Fourth of July, where vehicles and weaponry were on display and where Piccillo's campaign had an info booth.
The goal is to shed stereotypes of Democrats, he said.
"Democrats do love their country, they fought for their country, and they're willing to stand up for all people regardless of the political party," Piccillo said.
As for the lack of party affiliation, "Some people will vote for the person but not the party," he said. "We want voters to know that I am a strong leader that puts them first."
Both men say they are supporters of Second Amendment rights, though Nugent has had to clarify his stance. In 2004, he was among law enforcement officials who signed a petition to continue the ban on assault rifles. He says he supports the ban on fully automatic but not semiautomatic weapons. Piccillo holds the same position.
Rich Nugent said Wednesday his campaign has a commercial ready to air, too. He said the ad is a positive one that focuses on his biography and stances on issues.
Nugent said he saw Piccillo's commercial on the Web.
"I had to chuckle, actually," he said. "It seemed rather childish, personally. He's really trying to endear himself to Republicans or to the NRA or whomever."
Nugent, who served in the Illinois Air National Guard, was endorsed by the NRA and now has Ted Nugent in his corner.
Ted Nugent, 61, is known for songs like Cat Scratch Fever and Dog Eat Dog. But he also is the author of God, Guns, & Rock 'N' Roll and Ted, White, and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto in which he rails against welfare, calls for the execution of child molesters and pronounces global warming a hoax.
Rich Nugent, 59, emphasized that his campaign did not ask the musician for an official endorsement. But Rich Nugent found out recently that one of his friends hunts with Ted Nugent, so the sheriff sent the rocker a letter a couple of weeks ago asking if he'd mind signing some T-shirts.
Rich Nugent said he respects Ted Nugent's position as a conservationist, sportsman and rock musician who didn't take drugs. But the sheriff, who hunted often in the years before taking office, said he mainly sent the request for his three sons. Growing up, all three got called "Ted" by people who thought of the famous musician when they heard the last name. The sheriff's oldest son, Ryan, recently attended a Nugent concert in Myrtle Beach.
A call to the agency that represents Ted Nugent was not returned Wednesday.
Rich Nugent said he doesn't expect the support to help sway voters.
"He's great guy and did a neat thing and I appreciate it," Nugent said.
But Rich Nugent said Ted Nugent's support and the photograph came up Tuesday night in Levy County, where the sheriff was the guest speaker at the Yankeetown Republican Club.
"They went crazy about it," he said. "They thought it was pretty cool."
Piccillo dismissed the Nugent for Nugent announcement.
"Instead of talking about ways to improve the district, we're talking about an aged rock star supporting a guy with the same name," he said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.