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.
If the Republicans and moderates would vote at 100% all the local PR hacks would be out of business overnight. The mere thought of this should send conservatives to the polls in droves. The local PR hacks candidates don’t win because of their expertise, they win because Republicans and moderates don’t bother to vote.
Vote, vote, vote!
Oh, and Diana Oropallo did an outstanding job of derailing her own campaign, regardless of whatever Vancore Jones might have done. And Steve Stewart’s loss may be more attributable to, well, Steve Stewart than to any imagined suppressing of Republican votes. His message of More Cops More Cops More Cops may just not have resonated with the people of Tallahassee who regularly see TPD behaving abusively towards citizens.
Look, I like to rag on Vancore-Jones as much as the next guy, but Come On! Your accusation that V-J would in any way shape or form intentionally run one campaign differently from another is farcical on its face. V-J runs identical cookie-cutter campaigns for whomever their client may be, and if they ran Oropollo’s campaign in any way differently than Millers, then that represents a complete breakdown of their business model rather than anything that would resemble something like “strategy”. And since V-J was the consultant for both Ed DePuy, who went on TV to let all the voters know he was involved in ethics violations, thus costing him the election to a man whose name is difficult to pronounce and whose accent is so thick that you can’t understand a word he says, and Cliff Thaell, who went on TV to let all the voters know he was involved in ethics violations, thus costing him the election to a man who had never previously voted in his life and was known primarily as somebody who was good at throwing and catching a football, I’m going to go ahead and assume “strategy” is just not what Vancore-Jones is known for.
JP-a look at their website would indicate they do “strategy.” From their website:
“The three principals at VancoreJones Communications have over 60 years combined experience in legislative and political communications in Florida. We have worked extensively in virtually every county in the state with key and notable successes in both primary and general elections. ”
Not sure what their strategy was in having DePuy and Thaell inform the public (who hitherto-fore didn’t give a s#!t) that they were possible ethics violators, but it was a pretty bad strategy considering the outcome of those races.
Great journalism… great story… great question.