Justice Prevailing?

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The poll, done in March by The Kitchens Group of Orlando, showed Justice with a


17-point lead over Farkas and a 12-point lead over Berfield. For those who hew to the conventional wisdom, those results are a bit tough to swallow.



Even more unbelievable to some political wags was the poll’s assertion


that Farkas is beating Berfield, 30 percent to 20 percent with half of


Republican voters undecided. The CW is that Farkas has taken so many


hits for his ethics (remember, he was one of four legislators who took


a junket to Toronto courtesy of the gambling industry?) that he can’t


possibly beat a better financed, cleaner candidate in Berfield. But The


Ktichens Group poll found that “Kim Berfield is virtually unknown


within this electorate, with hard name identification level at only 16


percent.” Farkas had 47 percent name recognition — but half of it is


negative! That is a stunningly high negative rating, one that means a


certain death for his campaign eventually



For Justice, that is unfortunate, as Berfield gives him a tougher race


than Farkas. His pollster’s one-page memo on the race says the


Republicans’ “hotly contested primary race” will “utlimately benefit


Charlie Justice, who begins the general election race as a strong front


runner.”



That’s probably more spin and wishful


thinking than anything else. Farkas and Berfield will get 5-6 months


of free press coverage to drive their recognition up, while Justice has no race to generate publicity and increase his awareness stats (which the polling memo did not


reveal).



A few caveats regarding this poll: the entire survey was not released by the


campaign, which cited its strategic nature; its sample size (400


likely voters) makes it impossible to draw accurate conclusions about


subsamples in the survey, such as how Republicans view their own


candidates; and its margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent,


meaning that Justice’s 35 percent-23 percent lead over Berfield could


actually be more like 30 percent to 28 percent.



Now for the poll itself. I was sitting home over the weekend of March


8-11 and got one of these polling telephone calls. It was not a


particularly nasty poll, and it certainly didn’t directly whack Farkas


for being ethically challenged. According to my notes of the survey,


the questions tested voters’ perceptions of school vouchers, the


telephone rate hike bill, stem cell research, oil drilling off the


Florida coast, parental notification for abortions, prescription drug


costs, whether the governor adequately prepared the state for


hurricanes, and how the Legislature handled the Terri Schiavo case. In


a nod to Farkas, the pollster asked if I thought special interest trips


were bribes.



The pollster then read me a brief bio of the candidates. Justices’


outlined what will likely be his campaign back story: He’s “running for


a new direction in Tallahassee;” an educator who is married; passed


three strikes and you’re out legislation; opposed Schiavo intervention;


and “supporters say he is a regular guy, smart and tough enough to


fight for what he believes.”

Even to some in his own Democratic Party, Florida Senate candidate Charlie Justice’s campaign performance has been viewed as pretty abysmal, at least measured by his fundraising results. Justice, now in the House from St. Petersburg, has raised only about $53,000 so far, according to reports released this week. His Republican counterparts, Rep. Kim Berfield and Rep. Frank Farkas, have raised $374,000 and $317,000, respectively.Justice

But as far behind as that is, there are signs of hope in the world of this mild-manner legislator. His first quarter fundraising totals were nearly double that of his previous efforts over 12 months. He has a new hard-ballin' campaign manager, Mitch Kates, who wrestled professionally under the name "Jason the Terrible" and who was forced to apologize by his candidate for calling one opponent a "punk bastard" and the other (the mayor of Boston) a big, drooling teddy bear. And now, Justice has a new internal poll that Kates says shows his client in the driver's seat in the race to replace Republican Jim Sebesta in District 16.

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