No matter the results Tuesday, the biggest loser in Florida's epic 2010 election season may be the truth.
Since the Aug. 24 primary, PolitiFact Florida has rated 77 claims on the Truth-O-Meter from candidates across the state. The results are sobering. More than 40 percent of the claims were False or Pants on Fire. Seven in 10 claims were Half True or worse.
No candidate, no party, is immune.
In Orlando, vulnerable Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson manipulated a video of Republican opponent Daniel Webster to make it sound as if he was telling women to submit to him. In South Florida, a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Ron Klein brazenly said he has a higher security clearance than President Barack Obama. And in the Panhandle, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd wrongly said his opponent hasn't paid his taxes.
And that's just the start.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek said on national television that the Taliban have been in Afghanistan for hundreds of thousands of years (they've been around since 1994) — Pants on Fire. Independent Gov. Charlie Crist tried to link former House Speaker Marco Rubio to a state budget earmark for a rowing center — Pants on Fire. And Rubio claimed Crist was attacking him for positions Crist himself held just six months ago — Barely True.
Here's a recap of this unbelievable election cycle through the eyes of a fact-checker.
A word of warning: It gets pretty ugly.
Race for governor
Not that long ago, Republican Rick Scott was airing calming ads with him wearing a blue dress shirt, looking into the camera and introducing himself to the state.
Now it's attack ad, attack ad, happy rally ad, attack ad, attack ad.
And not long ago Democrat Alex Sink ran an ad mocking Scott and his primary opponent Bill McCollum for fighting and name-calling. "I don't know about you, but I've had just about enough of politicians attacking each other," she said.
Now, it's attack ad, attack ad (fraud), happy rally ad, attack ad (fraud), attack ad.
In one of those ads, Sink and the Florida Democratic Party crafted a two-minute TV message to look like a Dateline NBC segment, documenting the fraud allegations while Scott served as CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain. The ad took liberties in suggesting that because Scott invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times in one deposition that he somehow was guilty of fraud (Half True), and failed to note that the deposition in question wasn't even tied to the criminal investigation.
But it did get many of the basic facts of the Columbia/HCA case correct. In short, the hospital chain pleaded guilty to 14 corporate felonies and paid government fines totaling $1.7 billion — the largest in U.S. history, according to the Justice Department.
Scott countered with claims of fraud and mismanagement against Sink. He claimed in one ad that Sink "funneled three quarters of a million dollars in no-bid contracts to Bank of America," Sink's former employer, while serving on the state Cabinet. It was an overly simplistic explanation of a very complicated topic. In short, Sink and Cabinet members pre-approved a consortium of banks to sell state-issued bonds. How many bonds those banks sold determined their commissions. Sink had no way of knowing how much Bank of America would eventually earn. So we said Barely True.
Scott and the Republican Party of Florida alleged in another ad that Sink lost $24 billion in the state employees' pension fund, and then Sink turned around and gave bonuses to staffers. But the figure is wrong — it should be about $8 billion — and the money is lost in the sense that the pension fund has lost value, but it's not gone forever. Values rise and fall. Again, Barely True.
Race for U.S. Senate
In the U.S. Senate race, we've learned that the advantages of being a front-runner carry over to fact checks.
Rubio — who is ahead in all the polls and has aired at least six TV spots — has been able to deliver messages high on hope, but thin on concrete proposals. To someone who checks facts, they stand out in that they lack facts.
Rubio's latest spot, a two-minute advertisement called "A Generational Choice," is full of well-crafted rhetoric, a generic message of change and, by our count, one fact. The United States has "trillions in foreign debt," he says. He's right of course. But it's hardly a statement anyone would contend.
It helps that Rubio has friends like the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who have been attacking Crist on Rubio's behalf.
Crist, meanwhile, has no such advantage.
After saying he'd be a "happy warrior," Crist's campaign largely has been almost exclusively attacking Rubio.
Crist has succeeded in making Social Security a central issue by claiming in debates, campaign speeches and in a TV ad that Rubio wants to raise the retirement age for Social Security and cut benefits. Crist is right that Rubio has suggested alterations to the federal entitlement program, but leaves out the half of Rubio's plan where he says there would be no changes for people now retired or within 10 years of retiring. We've rated his claims Half True.
When pressed to offer his own solution for Social Security, which might not have enough money to pay out claims starting in 2037, Crist flubs his message as well. He talks about a plan to have illegal workers earn citizenship and then pay into Social Security. But most already do. And when he says Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's labor secretary, supports his plan, he errs again. Reich wants to increase legal immigration into the United States to create more workers per retirees. He hasn't talked about illegal workers. We rated that claim False.
Then there's Meek, the former highway patrolman turned state lawmaker turned member of Congress, who has been stuck in third place in polls and largely ignored by Rubio and Crist.
Meek at first tried to distinguish himself in an effort to corral the Democratic vote. Meek rightly said that he is the only candidate who supported the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor (True), but wrongly claimed he is the only one in the three-way race to try to protect the Florida Everglades. We rated that claim False.
Then Meek turned to Rubio, releasing daily messages attempting to paint Rubio as extreme. One had a comic-like picture of Rubio with a message bubble saying "Solo Ingles" (English only). Rubio does support making English the official language, but we found that doesn't mean what Meek wants you to think it means. We found Meek's quoting of Rubio to be False.
None of this even begins to discuss the ads relating to proposed amendments to the Constitution, or the races for state Cabinet. Take our word for it, much of what you've seen or heard includes asterisks, too. Read more at PolitiFact.com/Florida.
And trust us. The TV ads are almost over.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2273.