Fear and Loathing in the Florida Primary


Jacksonville, Fla.—A five hour drive on the back roads of the Sunshine State will tell you that this is a very different primary contest than either New Hampshire or Iowa. In a state renowned for its tackiness, there are surprisingly few yard signs planted next to pink flamingos. Major intersections are devoid of mounted 4' X 8' signs and there are no rows of useless roadside signs either. Even the billboards that pollute your view don't display a single political ad.

You don't see this in Florida.

While driving from Tampa to Jacksonville I listened to conspriacy theorist Alex Jones on WTAN, a low-wattage AM station based in Clearwater Beach. The bulk of the ads were about survival seeds, gold, and how we need to prepare for the time when we are all sent off to FEMA camps. There were no political ads, however, not even for Ron Paul, who is Jones' favorite candidate.

At the Radio Shack in Keystone Heights I saw one pro-Gingrich and two anti-Gingrich ads on television during the 10 minutes I spent shopping for a power converter. The clerk was puzzled about why I came "all the way from Boston" to her town. 

"I am here to cover the primary," I told her.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I am so sick of it already," she said.

Another Gingrich ad came on the TV.

"Ug," she groaned. 

The media landscape here is dominated by Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. I've heard nothing from either Paul or Rick Santorum on local radio or television. While Paul and Santorum did well in the earlier, smaller states because they pressed the flesh, they won't have that same success here. Paul's decentralized supporters are doing their own thing, but that approach is even more low-budget than Paul's official campaign operations. Standing on overpasses waving Ron Paul signs and handing out "super brochures" is just not the same as dropping $10 million into a television and radio camapign.

Given its size and reduced number of delegates, Florida is an expensive place for candidates with smaller budgets. Since Paul has a long-term game plan his decision not to play here makes sense.