The Republican primary race for Pinellas County’s House District 69 has taken an odd turn.
A supporter of Madeira Beach attorney Ray Blacklidge was out canvassing Monday when he and other volunteers noticed something fishy going on — the flyers they were leaving at front doors were going missing, only to be replaced by materials backing the campaign of Blacklidge’s primary opponent, St. Petersburg attorney Jeremy Bailie.
The canvasser had noticed Bailie was on the same route, and after finishing his knock list, he decided to do some recon by doubling back and ducking in some bushes, smartphone in hand. His espionage bore fruit — Bailie himself was pulling a door-to-door switcheroo.
On Tuesday, a video of the dirty deed was posted to Facebook and YouTube, where it has since garnered more than 3,300 views. In a comment on that Facebook post, the man who captured the video said this wasn’t the first time Blacklidge’s campaign materials had gone missing.
“Mr. Blacklidge has and had been told by multiple supporters that his yard signs and pamphlets keep ‘disappearing’ from their yards after Bailie workers walked the area after our own team,” said Dylan Kirkhart, later adding that “It’s just a loathsome and disreputable act that can’t be justified under any circumstance.”
Prior to witnessing Bailie doing the snatching, Kirkhart said Team Blacklidge had chalked up the lossage to immature volunteer workers rather than the candidate himself.
Though they only caught one of the swaps on video, Kirkhart and other volunteers shadowed Bailie without confronting him and estimate that he pulled the same stunt around 50 times during the walk.
Blacklidge said he reported Bailie to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for stealing the flyers, though it’s unclear what law was broken. Under Florida law, taking a campaign yard sign is considered theft, with the severity of the charge tied to the cost of the sign. Unlike the flyers, which were left at unattended homes, campaign signs are placed with the permission of the property owner, often on request.
Bailie, 27, responded to the allegations in a brief interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.
“First of all, I want to apologize to my opponent and to everyone else. I called Ray to apologize,” he said. “We were out knocking doors for hours. It’s been a long campaign and I made a mistake. I’m sorry and I apologize to Ray and I promise it won’t happen again.”
While Bailie may not make the same mistake again, such antics aren’t uncommon during the silly season that precedes Florida elections. Recall earlier this year that a video posted by Cocoa Mayor and House District 51 candidate Henry Parrish showed a supporter of his opponent pulling up and flinging a campaign sign as if it were a frisbee.
Blacklidge and Bailie will go head-to-head in the Aug. 28 primary election, with the winner moving on to face Democratic nominee Jennifer Webb on the November ballot. The seat is currently held by third-term Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters, who is running for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission rather than re-election.
HD 69 covers part of southern Pinellas County including coastal communities from Redington shores southward as well as a piece of mainland Pinellas.
The video is below.