Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Outright Lies Stain Primary; Political Pros Call Them 'Contrast Pieces,' but Claims Don't Hold Up in Scrutiny

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Outright Lies Stain Primary; Political Pros Call Them 'Contrast Pieces,' but Claims Don't Hold Up in Scrutiny

Article excerpt

Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | They are scenes more at home on Animal Planet than in a political campaign's playbook.

There was the picture of a sad-looking puppy. Another featured a "Jaws"-like shark ready to devour a wooden rowboat full of cash.

Those were two of the many images political consultants used to cast their candidate's opponent in a negative light during the recent primary elections. The ads are called "contrast pieces" by political pros, and they were seen all over the First Coast.

Not only were the ads negative, but often blatantly false.

A mail piece showing the forlorn puppy was sent by GOP congressional candidate Steve Oelrich. It said his opponent Ted Yoho, who won the race for the 3rd Congressional District, had his veterinary license suspended in the early 1990s.

That never happened. As a result of the mailer, Yoho's campaign is considering legal action.

The ominous mailer that included the shark implied that Ron DeSantis was a high-powered lobbyist because he worked for the law firm Holland & Knight. The firm employs lobbyists, but DeSantis was never one of them.

He won the GOP primary for the 6th Congressional District.

The piece was sent by the group Coastal Florida's Future, which was funded by people like insurance executive Tom Petway and former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver. They were supporting DeSantis opponent Richard Clark.

The advent of false advertising may not be new, but it's in the spotlight more than ever.

"There is now so much more scrutiny and fact-checking," said Susan McManus, a political scientist with the University of South Florida.

Nonetheless, she said even false ads can dictate the direction of a race.

"Even if an ad has mistruths in it, there is generally some kernel of truth in the eyes of the viewer," she said. "They will often believe it."

The false ad that got the most attention during the primary was one produced by a group supporting state Senate candidate Mike Weinstein. …

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