While not yet official a candidate for Florida governor, state Sen. Jack Latvala has made a major hire: Fred Davis, who was once described as the “GOP’s most notorious ad man.”
Latvala tells Florida Politics that Davis has been retained by his Florida Leadership Committee.
Latvala has said he will announce his 2018 plans on August 16.
Hiring Davis is the clearest indication yet that the Pinellas Republican will enter the gubernatorial race. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the only other declared major GOP candidate, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis are considering running.
Davis, formerly chief media strategist for 2008 Republican Party presidential nominee John McCain, heads Hollywood-based Strategic Perception Inc. and is considered a guru of attention-grabbing political videos. He is also one of the most sought-after media consultants for conservative candidates, having worked with top GOP names such as George W. Bush, Jon Huntsman, Jeff Flake, Chuck Grassley, Ben Sasse, Rick Snyder and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
One stat about Davis you’ll hear coming from Latvala’s camp is that the ad man’s clients went 12-for-12 in the previous non-presidential election cycle.
With a long resume, Davis is perhaps best known for producing McCain’s outrageous “Celebrity” ad – which compared Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton – as well as the “demon sheep” spot for U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, credited for helping her win the 2010 California Republican primary.
McCain campaign strategist Steve Schmidt called Davis as the “most creative person in the business – period.” NPR also described him as “the closest thing political advertising has to an auteur. Unlike just about any political media guru out there, Davis embraces weirdness.”
Although he is very good at the positive ad, as he did for Elizabeth Dole in 2002, Davis is at his best when running negative. Strategic perception spots have included giant rats running loose in Atlanta, a massive hairpiece on the Illinois statehouse and even a “full-length Western cowboy song.”
Always courting controversy, Davis faced a strong backlash in 2012 after The New York Times published a 57-page document (commissioned by billionaire Joe Ricketts) for a $10 million campaign against Obama’s re-election.
“The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama: The Ricketts Plan to End His Spending for Good,” tried to portray the president as “a metrosexual, black Abraham Lincoln,” suggesting Obama would respond to the ads by playing “the race card.”
Despite being initially approved by Ricketts’ Ending Spending Action Fund, the ads were later disavowed after the strategy leaked out to the press; the spots were never aired.
Nevertheless, the Ricketts incident only cemented Davis’ reputation as hard-hitting and unconventional.
“If every other ad is yellow, you do your ad red,” David once said. “If every ad is loud, you do yours soft.”
In other words, bringing on Davis would be the perfect move for a Republican gubernatorial candidate looking to enter a brutal, no-holes-barred Florida primary.