My own career as a campaign manager began and ended more than 30 years ago in college. We had the best candidate, the best platform, the best cartoons and gimmicks. How could anybody possibly vote for Brand X?
Meanwhile, the Brand X candidate made friends in every fraternity, put a campaign manager in every dormitory, knocked on every door on campus, and rightly mopped the floor with us at election time.
In short, the side that arranges to turn out the most votes usually wins.
No matter how stupid that sounds, no matter how obvious, it is very easy to drift into thinking you will win a race because you are the Best Candidate, and not because you worked to get the most votes.
Today's election to choose the next mayor of Tampa illustrates this principle.
The question is whether the much-endorsed Bob Buckhorn (backed by newspapers, police and fire, builders, and current Mayor Pam Iorio) has worked enough to turn back the organization of Rose Ferlita, the former City Council and County Commission member.
For all the criticism that Ferlita lacks focus and specifics, she still finished first in the March 1 primary. This was most impressive. She finished ahead of Buckhorn. She and Buckhorn knocked out the early favorite Dick Greco, the former four-term mayor seeking a comeback.
Since then, Buckhorn has picked up a lot of official support, most importantly from Iorio, the popular mayor whose term is ending, and for what it's worth, the editorial endorsements of the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa Tribune, Creative Loafing, the Florida Sentinel Bulletin and the trilingual La Gaceta.
For what it's worth.
Ferlita has the backing of our new Attorney General Pam Bondi, Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober and the civic institution Fred Karl, a former county administrator, former Supreme Court justice, and former lots of other stuff.
Personally, as far as endorsements I'd trade about six Bondis and Obers and even a couple of Karls for one Iorio. But again, how much difference does it make?
People also like to talk about ideology and demographics. The race is officially nonpartisan, but more than ever, party is playing a role. Ferlita is Republican; Buckhorn, a Democrat; there are a lot more Democrats in Tampa than Republicans.
Ferlita is a woman; there are more women than men; sometimes they vote a little more often. Ferlita is Hispanic; Buckhorn is not but has carefully courted every group in Tampa over the years. The La Gaceta endorsement of Buckhorn is interesting, but it hardly represents a monolithic voting bloc.
Mercifully, here's one thing the election has not been about: national politics. The elections of 2010 in Florida were not only about who should run Florida. They also were about Obama's Failed Liberal Policies (the Republicans' term, not mine). That's all it took to win a race, even a local one. To my knowledge there has not been one instance of anybody bringing up O.F.L.P. in the Tampa mayor's race.
Nope. Not demographics, not ideology, not endorsements, but simply a matter of arranging to have the most votes. True 30 years ago, true today. If Ferlita wins, it will be by the strength of organization; if Buckhorn wins, it will be because he countered it.