No, Brian Burgess, Chris Sprowls will not ‘feel the Bern’

Isn’t it fun to have new friends to play with?

That’s how I felt when I learned Republican communications operative Brian Burgess was launching The Capitolist website where he (and other notables like Sarah Rumpf) blogs and aggregates.

I’ve always been of the opinion that Florida politics needed more bloggers and tweeters and writers. At the national level, when the blogosphere was a new, exciting place, the best of the national bloggers, like Andrew Sullivan, would complement and link to each other’s work one day, spar with each other the next.

It made for great reading, and it’s good for traffic.

With a few exceptions (POLITICO’s Marc Caputo among them), few of the state’s political reporters engage in debate with each other or their readers. Meanwhile, most of the political consultants, operatives, and spokespeople keep focusing on partisan back-and-forths.

Rare is the comms person who is both on the inside AND willing to trade non-personal punches with a fellow political pugilist.

That’s why it’s great to see Burgess step into the ring (again. Who can ever forget his epic Twitter fights with Caputo?). He’s already mixing it up with insightful posts and exclusive interviews, like his recent chat with Gov. Rick Scott.

As much as I enjoy Burgess’ work, I’m not always going to agree with him. In fact, we probably respectfully disagree, more often than not.

Take, for instance, his blog entry about the challenge state Rep. Chris Sprowls is facing this election cycle. The thrust of Burgess’ well-researched piece is that Democrat Bernie Fensterwald‘s ability to self-fund his campaign could turn Sprowls into the next Chris Dorworth, who was upset in 2014 by Mike Clelland.

“In late June, Fensterwald filed his financial disclosure form, causing Tallahassee insiders to inhale so sharply that it temporarily lowered the downtown air pressure,” writes Burgess. “The filings reveal that Sprowls’ personal net worth is a piddly four-thousandths of a percent of Fensterwald’s own: $82,000 for Sprowls, versus $19.8 million for his Democrat challenger.

“ … According to campaign finance records, Sprowls’ campaign is sitting on $140,000 in cash-on-hand, while his PAC, “Floridians for Economic Freedom,” has about $330,000. … While that would normally be a lot of money, it pales in comparison to what Fensterwald might be willing to spend.”

As a veteran of the Scott gubernatorial campaign, there’s no doubting Burgess’ experience as a political operative. However, in the case of House District 65, Burgess is overstating the value of Fensterwald’s millions.

HD 65 is not a congressional race. It’s not a state Senate race. It’s a race for a seat tucked into a — geographically speaking — small, compact area of north Pinellas.

This means buying broadcast television ad time is really not an option for Fensterwald. Sure, he could try to buy time on Tampa Bay’s expensive broadcast networks (he likely won’t be able to find available inventory come October, if not before) but that would be like trying to kill a Zika-ridden mosquito with a sledgehammer. It’s too big a weapon for so small a target.

Certainly, Fensterwald could buy time on cable television. But how much?

Twenty-five-thousand-dollars a week, on Bright House Networks in HD 65, would have Fensterwald’s face as omnipresent as John Morgan‘s.

Let’s say he spends twice as much as that. Even if he can find the inventory, that would be $250K total for October and the first week of November.

Let’s even say that Fensterwald goes up after Labor Day. That brings his total buy to $500K, a carpet bombing rarely seen in Pinellas politics.

After television, Fensterwald’s next best option is flooding voters’ mailboxes.

Assuming a massive universe of 25,000 voters per mailer, with Fensterwald (and any newly bought allies) sending 10 mailers a week for the last five weeks — which would be insane, and likely turn off as many voters as it attracted.

That’s 50 mailers, times $12,500 per mailer (generous) for $625,000 in direct mail.

So, even if Fensterwald launched the most ambitious television and direct mail campaign ever seen in Pinellas politics — one that would completely saturate the market — he’s only out $1.125 million.

Throw in the most ambitious paid ground and GOTV effort any Democratic state House candidate has ever run in the region, plus extensive buys on radio, digital and outdoor advertising, as well as employing every kooky idea run up the flagpole (ads on taxicabs, ads in urinals); it would be a challenge for Fensterwald to spend more than $2.5 million in HD 65 at this point in the election cycle.

This means if Sprowls does not raise another dollar and his liege-lord Richard Corcoran does not spend one gold coin on his behalf, then, at best, Fensterwald ONLY holds a five-to-one advantage over the popular, respected incumbent.

In a perfect universe for Fensterwald — or in a political environment where Donald Trump is at the top of the ticket for Sprowls — that would probably be enough to knock off an incumbent.

However, Sprowls, as a House Speaker-to-be, can make five phone calls and easily raise $500,000 to $1 million within 24 hours. Corcoran also has access to several millions of dollars and could also, with even less effort, raise $1 million for a committee called, “Chris Sprowls’ Emergency Defense Fund.”

The bottom line is, Burgess is overstating the case for Fensterwald because there’s only so much money that can be moved through the system in Pinellas County at this point in the election cycle.

Does Burgess offer an intriguing blog post? Heck yes. He even has an intriguingly weird photo of “Sprowls on fire” with it.

But does Chris Sprowls need to worry? Hardly.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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