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Political Party with Adam Smith: The risks of participating in public forums

Adam Smith

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Political junkies may have noticed that a lot of Republican candidates in 2020 declined to participate in public forums, from Tiger Bay to Chamber of Commerce forums.

Our latest Guest on Political Party with Adam Smith, prominent Tampa Bay-based Republican consultant Anthony Pedicini, says the reason is simple: Too risky.

“We kind of made a decision that – not that people don’t deserve to have these debates and they don’t need to – but if we’re going to go ahead and stub our own toe, we’re not going to do it live in front of 500 people online. It’s not worth it,” said Pedicini, whose firm Strategic Image Managment worked with Republican county commission, legislature and congressional candidates across the state.

Public forums are considered a staple of campaigning – even when held online because of a pandemic – but they can torpedo a campaign if a candidate lacks the experience or message disciple to avoid gaffes, Pedicini said.

He cited three statements that emerged at forums that he used against Democrats he helped defeat this year: Democrat Julie Jenkins, challenging Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa, saying she did not intend to return federal Paycheck Protection Program money loaned to the state Democratic Party; Democratic State Rep. Jennifer Webb of Gulfport saying she had no authority to stop a controversial development in her district; Democratic state House candidate Lake Barbara Cady of Lake Wales calling popular Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd “deplorable.”

“Is it worth it if you’re the Speaker of the House or Senate President pouring millions of dollars into a pick up (legislative) seat or a seat you have to hold, to have a candidate go and flub it up because they answered a question at Tiger Bay wrong? No.”

His partner, Tom Piccolo (who in 2006 ran against St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman for state House and whose brother, Fred, is the communications director for Gov. Ron DeSantis) worked directly with incoming Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls on a the state House campaign machine that picked up another five seats for the GOP.

Pedicini said their recipe for success was simple and went beyond the Republican’s huge money advantage: Recruiting extremely strong, hard-working candidates and running stronger, locally-focused campaign messages. Democrats, he said, often relied on the same cookie-cutter messages in all their races statewide.

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