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Hillsborough GOP chief tells candidates to ‘immediately cease and desist’ negative campaigning

Negative campaigning works, right?

Obviously it does, but we don’t have to like it. That’s why Hillsborough GOP Chairman Jim Waurishuk sent a straightforward message to his party’s local candidates.

The retired U.S. Air Force colonel wants, no, demands … oh, I’ll let him tell it.


The capital letters are his, by the way. They appear in a letter he sent to all Hillsborough GOP candidates telling them to knock off the mudslinging during the primary campaigns.

And in case the message didn’t get through, he added, “As Republicans, we are better than this … let’s end it once and for all!”

I caught up with him Thursday afternoon and asked him to amplify his reasons for sending that letter. He was happy to do so.

“We have gotten so many calls, emails and text messages to our office from voters who are upset with the negative campaigning,” he said. “They want something done about it.”

It has been a feisty time for Republican candidates in the county.

In the HD 57 race, Michael Beltran filed a lawsuit against rival Sean McCoy over a negative mailer accusing him of helping an “illegal alien … get out of jail and back on our streets.”

HD 59 between Joe Wicker and Ronda Storms has turned muddy as well. Storms blasted recent mailers from Wicker’s camp as inaccurate, including one that was Photoshopped to show her in a lounge chair with a bag of potato chips at her side.

But no, Waurishuk said the letter wasn’t about any particular campaign. It was about trying to set a tone of civility.

“As chairman and board members, we have to stay out of the primary races,” he said. “We can’t show favoritism.”

Any political consultant will tell you, though, that going negative works — even if violates Ronald Reagan’s sacred so-called 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any Republican.

It also should be noted that attack ads aren’t the sole property of either major political party. Democrats have proved over the years that they, too, can fling mud with the best of them.

Voters say they hate it, but they respond to it, which is why negative ads will always be with us. Depicting your opponent as a spawn of Satan will win out every time over a lengthy position paper and sober discussion of the issues.

And with targeted direct mailing, sending a dagger through an opponent with a slimy ad is easier and more effective than ever.

Good luck trying to stop it.

“That’s true,” Waurishuk said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do. There’s no legislation for this, and then there are the PACs and special interests. If you tried to get a law through about it, you get into First Amendment issues, and lawyers would fight it all the way to the Supreme Court.”

A good ol’ tongue-lashing isn’t against the law, though.

Will it work?

Well, we can dream.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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