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Jennifer Webb

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Jennifer Webb looks poised to topple Ray Blacklidge; here’s why

Florida’s House District 69 is one of several throughout the state Democrats are hoping to flip. The Pinellas County district is currently held by Republican Kathleen Peters, but she’s leaving office to run for the Pinellas County Commission.

Open seats, particularly those held by moderate politicians like Peters, are ripe for the minority party to take over.

It looks like Jennifer Webb could do just that.

The most recent poll shows the Democrat a solid 15 points ahead of her opponent, Republican Ray Blacklidge. That is a steep hill to climb.

But there’s a catch.

That poll was conducted in late September, which gave Republicans more than a month to start dumping money into ad buys and direct mail to bolster their guy.

Their efforts have been bloody.

An outside group put up a television ad warning voters not to get caught “in the Jennifer Webb” and made several false claims about where she is getting campaign contributions and her campaign platform.

Mail piece after mail piece slamming Webb for accepting campaign contributions from special interests tie her to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, two Washington lawmakers loathed by conservatives.

The mail pieces paint Webb as “a radical socialist” and they lump her into policies presented by other candidates by loosely tying them to shared campaign donors. The accusations range from Webb wanting to raise taxes by “billions of dollars,” something she’s never proposed, to wanting to gut school choice options for parents. Webb does support scaling back charter school funding that comes at the expense of traditional public schools, but she has not said she wants to get rid of them entirely.

While those messages resonate with conservative voters, the outside groups funding them, including the Republican Party of Florida, might not be doing Blacklidge any favors.

Negative ads turn voters off and especially close to the election, after weeks of seeing political attacks at every commercial break, it becomes ad nauseum.

It also might be a tact targeting the wrong voters. The “radical socialist” argument is only really effective among conservatives, and within that sect, typically older conservatives. But political insiders this election know the presence or absence of a “blue wave” is going to come down to independent voters and young people – two groups least likely to be swayed by attack ads and extremist claims.

There’s also the issue of optics. Women are pounding the campaign trail with the momentum of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements that has fired up a nation to lift women into more positions of power, including political leadership.

Non-profit organizations like Emily’s List are spending more money than ever on political races and that money is funneling down to women. Blacklidge is outspending Webb, but it’s not by much – a rarity within partisan matchups nationwide that finds Republicans far outspending their Democratic opponents.

With all that considered, Webb seems poised to pop the champagne Tuesday. But this is Florida, and, as all political junkies know, never say never.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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