Gov. Bob Martinez, his popularity sliding but his campaign account bulging, began an expensive series of television advertisements Monday designed to improve his image before he asks voters to re-elect him this fall. A 30-second spot focusing on Martinez's environmental achievements marks the beginning of what is expected to be an unprecedented election-year barrage of campaign ads.
The Republican governor and his Democratic opponents are expected to raise a combined total of more than $25-million, and much of that will be spent spreading their messages and attacking each other on television.
The attacks will come later. Right now, Martinez is focusing on changing attitudes.
In a calculated effort to increase the governor's popularity, the first advertisement resembles those promoting a new luxury car with scenes of forests and streams but no cars. It has panoramic shots of the Everglades, coral reefs and rivers. Martinez never says a word. He makes a cameo appearance at the end, walking along a Pinellas County beach.
"It's a warm and fuzzy," said Ted Phelps, a spokesman for Martinez's chief Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Bill Nelson of Melbourne.
Martinez can afford to run his first political advertisement, which will be seen in the Tampa Bay area later this week, nearly nine months before the general election.
He had $4.5-million in his campaign account at the end of 1989, and he picked up at least another million last month at a Miami fund-raiser where President Bush praised his performance. He is expected to eventually collect about $15-million, which would almost match what he and his Democratic opponent, Steve Pajcic, combined to raise in 1986.
The governor's critics point to his declining popularity and suggest Martinez cannot afford to wait any longer to run advertisements designed to polish his image. They cite opinion polls like the one released over the weekend by the New York Times newspapers in Florida.
In that poll, 37 percent of those surveyed approved of Martinez's performance. That is not as bad as the 12 percent approval rating he received in September 1987 in the midst of the debate over the controversial tax on services. But it is a significant drop from the 51 percent approval rating he had in March 1989, several months before he embarked on an unsuccessful attempt to further restrict abortion.
The latest poll also indicates that either Nelson or another Democratic challenger, state Sen. George Stuart of Orlando, would defeat Martinez in a head-to-head confrontation. But those numbers are not considered significant because more than one-third of those surveyed said they did not know how they would vote.
The Democrats' accusations that Martinez is trying to improve his standing with voters with early television advertisements amuses the governor's campaign manager.
"My response is, 'Of course, stupid,' " said J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich.
The first round of Martinez advertisements is expected to be on television until April and cost about $2-million. Following the spot on environmental issues will be similar advertisements touting Martinez's record on fighting drugs, controlling state spending and other noncontroversial subjects.
Martinez's advertisement about his environmental record was shown Monday in about half of the state. It cites his efforts to expand the Everglades National Park, protect rivers and coral reefs and stop offshore oil drilling. It also refers to his new proposal to borrow $3.2-billion to buy environmentally sensitive land.
"Some people don't know Bob Martinez has done all this," the narrator concludes as Martinez walks along the beach. "But we are all better off because he did."
The first 30 seconds of the governor's advertising campaign is short on details. The advertisement fails to note that it was Congress that voted to expand the Everglades following the recommendation of a Martinez task force. It also fails to say that an oil-drilling ban he takes credit for is a temporary ban that expires in 1992.
"What he's saying is accurate," said Ann Whitfield of Florida Public Interest Research Group, which has campaigned against offshore oil drilling. "But it is important for people to recognize that the restrictions are temporary and only for some regions of Florida."
Charles Lee, a lobbyist for the Florida Audubon Society, said the Martinez advertisement appears to accurately represent the governor's concern for the environment.
"Each and every element there is supported by what he's done," said Lee, whose group has not endorsed a candidate. "I would say the governor's done a lot."
That is exactly what Stipanovich wants television viewers to conclude after seeing the advertisement. While Nelson and other candidates are expected to wait until late spring to air ads, Martinez will be on television looking for acceptance instead of votes.
"We didn't ask them to think about the governor's race," summed up Stipanovich. "We are just passing along information in a fairly low-key way."
Stipanovich said it is not unusual for campaign advertisements to begin appearing on television this early in an election year. He said ads for Martinez and Pajcic aired around March 1 in 1986 and candidates for a U.S. Senate seat that year began even earlier.