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Todd Wilcox cultivates serious Jacksonville ties

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis represents Ponte Vedra in Congress, and his wife Casey is a television chat show host.

Carlos Lopez-Cantera has a campaign manager, Brian Swensen, who fulfilled a similar task for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

Yet it’s Todd Wilcox, the seeming dark horse of the Florida GOP U.S. Senate derby, who is best positioned (perhaps) to make a play for the deep pockets and conservative voters of Northeast Florida.

His campaign manager, announced Tuesday, is Brian Hughes, who was not the campaign manager for Lenny Curry but who was operationally responsible, day in and day out, for ensuring that Curry’s message got through to the Jacksonville media.

In 2016, we can “assume” that Curry was “inevitable.”

However, those of us who lived and breathed Curry’s rise from irrelevance in the polls to the fourth floor of City Hall know the role of Hughes.

Nate Monroe of the Times-Union once put it something like this: The Curry team never let a news cycle go uncontested.

I can tell you from personal experience that is true.

Even before the Alvin Brown side put out press releases or advance notices to media, Hughes would have his counter-messaging quote ready, a function of deep and effective opposition research, coupled with a pugnacious candidate who campaigned like his life depended on winning that race.

Hughes ensured that Curry wasn’t defined by the Jacksonville media, one which effectively handed Brown the keys to City Hall, as his Republican opponent, Mike Hogan, pandered to the social conservatives and scared the moderate Republicans off into the unknown.

The Jacksonville media kept pointing to University of North Florida polls, sometimes even when they were close to a year old, as “proof” that Brown couldn’t lose.

Hughes helped to counter that narrative of inevitable reelection, focusing like a laser on every misstep the Brown administration made and blowing them up into murals depicting rank and epic incompetence.

Meanwhile, the campaign side: Hughes ran one campaign manager, Fabien Levy, out of town and into a role as “independent communications adviser.”

Levy’s replacement, Yianni Varonis, knew it was lost when his feet hit the ground in Jacksonville, and toward the end of the campaign said as much in various ways.

Varonis doesn’t even list the Brown stint on his LinkedIn page.

Can Hughes work the same magic for Todd Wilcox? Certainly, there will be that friendly rivalry with Swensen, and it will be interesting to watch how Team Wilcox goes on the offense, against CLC, DeSantis, and David Jolly.

And as he did in the mayoral race, he will have access to the considerable resources of Michael Munz and Peter Rummell on the financial side.

Those two men were the driving force behind the Curry money machine, one which ran certain Republicans out of the race before it started, leaving Bill Bishop as the only Curry opponent on the right.

Bishop, recall, lost the Duval Republican Executive Committee endorsement in January 2015 in a game of political hardball. His campaign worked miracles with just over $100,000 raised.

But Munz and Rummell, and their friends, gave until it hurt … especially to the Curry PAC, which spared no expense in sending bruising mailers out to boost Brown and Bishop’s negatives.

Notable: at Dalton Agency, Munz’s ad agency across Hemming Park from City Hall, there is office space for Data Targeting … where mastermind opposition researcher Tim Baker plies his trade.

The polls may have Wilcox at fourth. But watch that space. His Jacksonville connections may have the GOP Senate candidate positioned better very soon.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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