Politics & Policy

“Punch Foley for Joe”

Unlikely candidate Joe Negron tries to win Mark Foley's old seat.

#ad#What that means is that voters in Florida’s 16th District should choose the Republican candidate on the ballot — that would be disgraced former Rep. Mark Foley — if they want their vote to count for Negron, the Republican state senator who found himself in the race after Foley’s candidacy exploded in scandal.

Getting voters to understand what they need to do in the voting booth is the top priority for Negron’s campaign. But it’s not at all clear that the clunky “Vote the placeholder name to vote for Joe Negron” instruction will get the job done.

“That’s on the website?” asks Todd Harris, the Washington-based Republican consultant who has come to Florida to help Negron. With a laugh, Harris explains that the campaign has better ways to get the message across. “The one I use is, ‘Punch Foley for Joe,’“ Harris says. “We’ll have signs made up that say that.”

Negron’s campaign is moving right along these days, more than three weeks after Foley resigned over improper messages he sent to former House pages. In those first days, the knee-jerk reaction of Washington insiders was that Negron was toast, that the seat was a sure loss for the Republican party.

Now, however, things look a little different. Negron is a fairly well-known figure in the area — he was first elected to the Florida legislature in 2000. He is receiving a good bit of aid from the national GOP — “They are spending some pretty significant dollars down here,” says Harris. And he is getting a major boost from Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has recorded a commercial for Negron that has been playing this week in the 16th District. “We’re all angry and upset by what’s happened with Mark Foley,” Bush says in the ad. “But maintaining control of Congress is important, because it’s a dangerous world. That’s why I want to introduce you to my friend Joe Negron.”

There’s no up-to-the-minute poll on the race. But a survey done for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in mid-October found Democrat Tim Mahoney leading Negron, 48 percent to 41 percent. Given what has taken place, Negron’s strategists say that’s not a bad gap, especially since the poll was taken before the Jeb Bush ad began airing. Now, it seems likely that the race is much closer, something Negron hopes will be confirmed in internal polling taking place now.

Negron’s supporters say he has to concentrate on three things between now and Election Day. One, he has to explain to voters how they can actually vote for Negron — “Punch Foley for Joe.” Two, he has to introduce himself to those voters who don’t know him. And three, he has to hammer away at Democrat Mahoney’s “moderate façade,” in the words of Harris, so that voters “will realize this is a guy who’s being supported by Hillary Clinton, who will vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and whose values are not the same as the 16th District’s.”

There are signs Negron is having some success, at least in the first mission. Early voting has begun in the district, and local media reports suggest there hasn’t been much confusion. “Many people leaving the [polling place] said they understood that Foley’s name was still on the ballot because of Florida’s election laws, but that a vote for Foley counted toward Republican replacement candidate Joe Negron,” the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported yesterday after a visit to a precinct in Port Charlotte. “It’s been all over the news,” one resident told the paper. “We heard plenty about it.”

In the end, it may prove that the panicky predictions made in the first hours of the Foley scandal will prove wrong, and this solidly Republican area — Foley won his last campaign with 68 percent of the vote — will stick with the GOP. “The fact is, this is a Republican district,” says Todd Harris. “Most voters do not think that the solution to the Foley problem is to send a liberal Democrat to Washington.”

 — Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.

Byron York — Byron York is is the author of The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.

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