Ken Keechl Campaign Manager: We Tried to Make LaMarca "Unacceptable"
In lieu of the silence from losing candidate Broward Mayor Ken Keechl, I spoke with his campaign manager, Eric Johnson, today. Johnson of course had made a little news recently with his negative "Convicted Criminal" mailers on Chip LaMarca, who prevailed in the race despite being outspent by more than a half-million dollars and being portrayed in Keechl mailers as a prison inmate.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Johnson says any backlash against those negative ads -- or anything else, including Keechl's dubious campaign spending on himself, his flip-flopping on the courthouse and his own employment, or his controversial Mayor's Gala -- had anything to do with the loss. Conversely, he said that LaMarca had nothing to do with the win because any Republican at all would have won the race and any Democrat would have lost this time around.
"This was the year that campaigns didn't matter," Johnson said. "The traditional post-mortems that get written and the analyses are all going to ultimately be kind of silly. People say, 'You could have not been so negative' or 'Did Alex Sink get the condo base motivated?' blah blah blah. It's all nonsense. It's the year campaigns didn't matter."
Read more inside.
"Ron Klein could have run $500,000 in positive ads, but if they had a D next to their name, they were going to lose," continued Johnson, who was Congressman Robert Wexler's former chief of staff. "D's are OK in Debbie Wasserman Schultz's district, but everywhere else... They'll be talking about this election for 20 or 30 years just like we talk about the Republican Revolution of 1994. This is far deeper than the Republican Revolution."
I asked him how he explained Alex Sink's dominance in Broward County.
"Alex Sink was one of the few races that was close," said Johnson. "And that had everything to do with the fact that she was running against a crook. Rick Scott is coming in as the most popular governor in the country. His negatives are rocket-high; it's almost impossible to win with his negatives. But all politics have gone out the window. Ron Klein, Ken Keechl, they all got swept out in the wave."
Then Johnson got specific.
"All the Democrats crashed and burned in that district," he said. "Kelly [Skidmore] lost by 20 points in that district. Gelber got wiped out in that district. Barbra Stern was in the 30s. The only one who I think is close is Alex. By that measure, [Keechl] did well. He lost by four when everyone else was losing by 20."
I wondered if Sink won Keechl's former district, and Johnson said he wasn't sure. I'm going to find out about that. But one thing that is being overlooked is that Keechl was a sitting mayor, while everyone else came out of the cold. I also brought up the example of Al Lamberti, the sheriff who won as a Republican during the very strong Obama wave of 2008.
Johnson explained the campaign's vicious attack ads on LaMarca during the final weekend -- attacks that he refuses to believe hurt Keechl. In fact, he believes they helped the mayor.
"The only way a Democrat ran and won was when they made the Republican unacceptable," said Johnson. "Like Harry Reid's opponent in Nevada [Sharron Angle] and what's-her-name, [Christine] O'Donnell, the witch girl. They were made unacceptable. We tried to make Chip unacceptable, and that made the race closer. It's laughable. If [Keechl] would have run $5 million in positive ads, he would have lost by more. He could have spent $10 million. The only thing Ken Keechl could have done to win that race was to become a Republican. Klein had to come within four or five points [of Allen West] for Ken to win, but he went down by ten."
LaMarca certainly didn't help himself, said Johnson.
"There are Republicans who ran hideous campiagns and won, one of them being Chip LaMarca," said Johnson. "His positive ads didn't work; his negative ads didn't work. The only thing that worked for him was the R next to his name."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.