FLORIDA PRIMARY ELECTIONS Why the Incumbents Fell Flat One Relied on Grass-Roots, the Other Cash

By Pinzur, Matthew I. | The Florida Times Union, September 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

FLORIDA PRIMARY ELECTIONS Why the Incumbents Fell Flat One Relied on Grass-Roots, the Other Cash


Pinzur, Matthew I., The Florida Times Union


One used money and one used fame. One was poor and the other obscure. One won by a landslide and the other just squeaked in.

But both Stan Jordan and Tyrie Boyer toppled incumbents -- the only incumbents on the Duval County ballot -- in Tuesday's elections.

Incumbency is a powerful advantage in politics, with sitting officials usually able to raise far more money, acquire important endorsements and point to recent accomplishments.

Plus, folks just get used to voting for the name they know.

But those factors weren't enough to prevent Boyer, a Jacksonville lawyer, from unseating Duval County Judge Hugh Fletcher, nor to erase one of the night's biggest surprises: the fall of state Rep. Jim Tullis.

Tullis, one of the few members of the Duval County Legislative Delegation not barred from re-election by term limits, lost to long-time School Board member Jordan in a race so close that it could not be called until every precinct and absentee ballots had been tallied.

Even though Jordan's skills as a grass-roots campaigner are legendary in First Coast political circles, observers said they were shocked that Tullis' big-name endorsements, incumbency advantage and $160,000 campaign account left him 159 votes short of Jordan.

"I don't think anybody expected that," said Bruce Barcelo, a Jacksonville political consultant. "Given [Tullis'] financial advantage, he was fairly ineffective."

With the results confirmed by a re-count yesterday, political science professor Susan MacManus said Jordan enjoyed the benefits of Tullis strategies that backfired, including a thick blanket of television advertising with Rep. Tom Feeney, the designated next speaker of the House.

"Sometimes too much endorsement can backlash," said MacManus, an expert on elections at the University of South Florida. "When people think the power structure is tilted against the average person, a little guy can take on a giant."

The key to Jordan's victory appears to be his close connection to the community.

"He'll call his friend in an area like north Regency and say, 'I want to come by and see some of your friends and bring a pickup truck full of yard signs and we can walk the neighborhood together,' " Barcelo said. "This is winning the battle of the neighborhood, street by street and cul-de-sac by cul-de-sac."

A lifetime resident of Jacksonville, Jordan said he drew on circles ranging from grammar school friends to members of the vastly powerful First Baptist Church to the wide network of connections forged in his 16 years on the School Board.

"This was truly a contest of one's ability to mobilize their friends," Jordan said, interrupting himself at times to take yet another congratulatory phone call yesterday.

Tullis did not return phone calls to his legislative office and insurance agency seeking comment. Spokesman Steve St. Amand said the campaign would not discuss the race beyond a four-sentence media release in which Tullis congratulated Jordan and looked forward to "remaining active in my community."

Jordan's army of supporters was vital to overcoming the wide financial gap -- he raised $100,000 less than Tullis, leaving little extra cash for mailings, television ads and campaign consultants.

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