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‘The rules of the game have changed’: Key Florida campaigns continue to run ads during hurricane


“I think campaigns should be geared towards helping hundreds of thousands of Floridians who are going to need a lot of help,” former Florida Republican Gov. Jeb Bush said when asked about the campaign. Bush guided Florida for a two-year period when it was hit by eight hurricanes, including four before the 2004 presidential election.

Steve Vancore, a longtime pollster and campaign consultant who has worked for Democratic and nonpartisan candidates, said campaigns that continue to run ads during a major natural disaster speak to the evolving nature of politics.

“There was a time when there was a natural disaster where everyone was giving up, at least for a few minutes,” he said. “These standards are out the window.”

Besides TV ads, some campaigns also email and text voters asking for money. And campaign staff continue to post on social media.

The hurricane’s arrival comes at a pivotal time in the election cycle, less than six weeks before the 2022 midterm elections. Most election officials in Florida are expected to begin sending out mail-in ballots the week next. Still, campaigns that stop pausing on ads underscore the heated political climate as well as the stakes of the November election, which includes races for the governor’s mansion and control of Congress.

There was a time when voters and campaigns considered it distasteful to run advertisements, especially negative ones, when Florida residents faced a natural disaster.

But that taboo mostly shattered during the bitter — and extremely close — races for Governor and U.S. Senate in 2018. Florida’s Republican Party aired ads blasting Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum even as Hurricane Michael swept in. on the state, while a super PAC was broadcast. ads that attack Republicans Rick Scott, who challenged incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. The Republican Party eventually suspended ads in areas directly affected by the storm.

Analysis by ad campaign tracking group AdImpact showed that, so far, only Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody’s campaign and the Florida Democratic Party have cut ad spend this week.

Ads funded by the Democratic Party promoted Charlie Crist, who challenges DeSantis. Crist’s campaign announced on Monday that it plans to suspend ads in media markets potentially impacted by the impending storm, including Tampa and Fort Myers, but will continue to run ads in the heavily Democratic southern region. of Florida – even though that region had been hit by tornadoes spawned by hurricanes.

Some consultants were skeptical about the rationale for removing the ads, saying campaigns are run differently now. Many voters may even skip seeing traditional broadcast or cable ads and instead rely on streaming services.

“Now is not the time to go off the air,” said a Florida Democratic consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Someone needs to tell Charlie Crist it’s not 1992. It’s 2022 and the rules of the game have changed.”

“Millions of Floridians are holding out for life. These political hacks can f — right away,” said Brendan Gilfillan, senior adviser to Crist.

Christina Johnson, spokeswoman for Moody’s, said “we hit the pause button in some markets due to Hurricane Ian.” Moody, in particular, was born and raised near Tampa.

And the hurricane disrupted other political activities. The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising canceled a hearing scheduled for Wednesday due to the storm. representing Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Select Committee Member, represents a district that includes Orlando.

President Joe Biden also postponed a Tuesday trip to Florida, where he was to campaign with Crist. Demings and other Democrats also canceled an event scheduled for Monday night in Fort Lauderdale.

Crist, while blaming DeSantis earlier this week on the state’s tattered insurance market, declined to criticize his GOP opponent for his response to the storm.

“I don’t want to go into Monday morning quarterback when it’s not Monday,” said Crist, who served as the state’s governor from 2007 to 2011. “We all have to focus on our fellow Florida people. .”

But there was no indication yet that other major campaigns had made changes to their advertising strategies. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to questions, while a spokesperson for Rubio’s campaign said earlier in the week that they had no plans to change their advertising strategy.

DeSantis and Rubio, however, have been on television frequently in recent days discussing the impact of Hurricane Ian, not politics. DeSantis held multiple press briefings from the state’s emergency operations center as well as multiple locations across the state and praised the Biden administration for helping with the response. Scott, who is in charge of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, was also on cable TV to discuss the storm. Crist also made television appearances on Wednesday.

Despite Demings’ campaign for the Senate to pull ads in areas in the storm’s predicted path, he remained aggressive in other parts of the state, including launching a new Spanish-language ad in the Miami market. which includes criticism of Rubio’s congressional attendance record. His campaign also ran radio ads in Orlando, which is expected to be hit by the storm the next day.

Members of both parties have been regularly accused of using disasters – both natural and man-made – for political purposes, such as advertisements aired in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some families of 9/11 victims have criticized then-President George W. Bush for running re-election ads that featured images of the Twin Towers collapsing as well as an American flag flying above debris.

2020 Iowa Republicans decried the representative then. Abby Finkenauer (D-Iowa) after filming a publicity campaign at a storm recovery event just days after a windstorm knocked out power and damaged homes and farms.

Vancore said he was a “little old school” and recommended “sensitivity” during natural disasters.

“You shouldn’t advertise or campaign when people are in trouble,” he said.

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