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Posted on October 14, 2014
The Florida Bar has a conflict of interest rule which states a lawyer must not represent a client if the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client.
Maybe this rule needs to be applied to campaign consultants.
In the recent primaries for the City Commission, the political consulting firm of Vancore-Jones represented both incumbent City Commissioner Nancy Miller, who was running against Steve Stewart, and Diana Oropallo, who was running against Curtis Richardson.
The two races were very different.
In the Miller-Stewart race, Stewart, a conservative, was counting on high turnout from registered Republicans and a combination of moderate Democrats and some disenfranchised African-American votes.
Miller, the incumbent, was considered likable and just needed to hold serve, as they say in tennis. However, Ms. Miller did have Commission votes on public safety, ethics reform, and electric rates that were considered a concern.
In the Oropallo-Richardson race, both candidates were registered Democrats. But the fact that Richardson lived on the southside and was black and Orapollo lived in Killearn Estates and was white, defined the voters each would need to appeal to.
Richardson would need a combination of the African-American vote and liberal white Democrats, while Oropallo would need moderate Democrats. Also, Oropallo, like Stewart, would need the conservative votes residing in the northeast.
As the races began to develop, a number of things came to light.
First, it became clear Oropallo would not go after any black votes on the southside. There were no “Oropallo” signs seen in southside neighborhoods or in French town. This strategy indicated she was counting on moderate Democrats and Republicans to carry her over the finish line.
Second, the Miller campaign started running a harshly negative TV advertisement a number of weeks out from the election against Steve Stewart. The ad, while not addressing a specific policy issue, was an attack advertisement designed to make Stewart unlikable to both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, the ad was also run during Fox News broadcasts, home to Republican voters.
Any campaign consultant will tell you that negative attack ads to someone’s base, in this case, Republicans for Stewart, is designed to suppress voter turnout. Given the fact that there were few races of interest to Republicans on the primary ballot, Republicans had little motivation to vote if the negative ad affected their view of “their” candidate, Steve Stewart.
In other words, a Republican may see the attack advertisement against Stewart and decide not vote, but rarely would such an advertisement convert Stewart voters to Miller voters.
And here is the conflict: Vancore-Jones was employing a strategy that would help their client Miller, but would adversely affect the chances of their other client, Oropallo, by suppressing Republican votes which she would need to win.
The results from election night show that turnout was down for both political parties, however turnout for Republicans, based on previous primaries, was down more than Democrats.
For example in the 2012 primary, Republicans turned out at 34.3% in the City of Tallahassee elections and Democrats voted at a 30.7% rate. However, in 2014, Republicans dropped to 26.1% compared to 26.9% for Democrats.
For Orapollo, Vancore-Jones should have been encouraging Republican turnout, but they did not.
So why did Vancore-Jones think they could develop a campaign strategy for two clients running in the same district in two very different races without adversely affecting the outcome of one of the races?
We will look into possible answers to this question next month.