‘Five Joes’ Make Significant Impact For Mack
By Larry Guest // October 25, 2012
CENTRAL FLORIDA, USA – Clearly the most unusual story of this election cycle is a group of five blue-collar political neophytes in Central Florida who combined for a Quixotic project that is impacting a key United States Senate race.
A bartender, used-car salesman, construction worker and two middle-class retirees chipped in $250 each to launch and publicize www.NixBillNelson.com. In doing so, they resisted the old saw: “I don’t like what’s happening in Washington, but what can I do; I only have one vote.”
They wanted to do something meaningful, even if the didn’t have meaningful resources.
The five friends – three from Orlando and two from the Space Coast – pulled in another friend, me, to serve as voluntary editor and spokesman. They only charged me the usual $250 to “volunteer.” So we were off and running with an impish grin and a war chest of $1,500.
They preferred to remain anonymous, having never been public figures, and knew that in the course of being a syndicated sports columnist for 28 years at he Orlando Sentinel, I have had my chin out fending off slings and arrows for years. They didn’t want to have some union thug come break their windows or damage the used cars, all for the heinous crime of opposing an incumbent Democrat. One member of the group fears that his boss, a fervent Obama Kool-aid drinker, might still get out a pink slip for him if his clandestine political work were revealed.
In our first planning meeting, I tried to tamp down their enthusiasm a bit, throwing a bridle on their wildest visions of billboards and statewide air media spots to promote the web site. I advised that our exposure would be limited to yard signs and small stories in a few newspapers. But, billboards??? A pipe dream, I sneered.
Particularly disappointing to the group is that, although several major Florida papers have written about NixBillNelson.com, their two “hometown” newspapers, Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel, haven’t carried a word about this novel project.
Shows what I know.
With the help of radio talk show appearances coast-to-coast across the I-4 corridor, speeches to more than a dozen Tea Party and Republican groups, word got around quickly about the site. Donations from visitors to the site, mostly in the $20-$25 range, began accumulating and soon my “Five Regular Joes” – the name I hung on them – had billboards up in Merritt Island, Orlando, Tampa and Clearwater and a batch of radio spots running on a dozen stations from West Palm to The Villages.
Particularly disappointing to the group is that, although several major Florida papers have written about NixBillNelson.com, their two “hometown” newspapers, Florida Today and the Orlando Sentinel, haven’t carried a word about this novel project. In fact, after a Sentinel staffer/friend arranged an appointment with that paper’s main political reporter, Scott Powers, he refused to come to the lobby to even talk to me. I called his desk and asked what that was all about. Did 28 years at that paper not at least earn me an audience? Powers, who joined the Sentinel several years after I took early retirement, said he had checked out the site before I arrived and determined that I was simply out to personally profit from the project. He issued this stark insult over the phone, thankfully, or I might be writing this story from the Orange County jail, awaiting an assault trial.
Nelson’s challenger, Rep Connie Mack, has acknowledged the site has had a significant impact in helping him wipe out Nelson’s early 8-point lead in the polls. While some of us involved would have preferred a “cleaner” GOP challenger, at least Mack’s baggage was misbehavior 20 years ago, while Nelson’s baggage is every time the Senate votes. The “Joes” just want Nelson out, knowing his M.O., and would settle for a Republican, Democrat, Dalmation or Martian in Nelson’s seat. Even a Dalmation might paw the ground half the time for a conservative bill.
“Five Joes” has accomplished all this on less than $10,000 — a stark contrast to the mega-PACs and their multimillion dollar war chests. Also in contrast were these rules I mandated: No unverified facts, no anonymous posts, no foul language and Sen. Nelson would be invited to reply on the site to anything he felt unfair or inaccurate. (No, he hasn’t exercised that opportunity.)
The group’s assumption was that many people vote on name recognition alone, without a clue as to how that politician represents them. The site’s main thrust is to detail many of the times Nelson has ignored the will of Floridians – saying one thing in Florida and voting the other way in the Senate. Indications are that a lot of eyes have been opened. One pair of those eyes belongs to a Gainesville man who sent in a letter posted in the “Peanut Gallery” section of the site: “If Mrs. Nelson reads this site, she’ll vote against him, too!”
Just imagine if a bartender, used-car salesman, construction worker and two retirees tip the balance for a U.S. Senate seat that might also determine which party holds majority for the next two years! Should that happen, you think maybe one of Central Florida’s two major papers would think it a worthy story?
Nahhhh. Just another pipe dream.
Larry Guest is the author of six books, including two bestsellers, and was the syndicated lead sports columnist at the Orlando Sentinel for 28 years until he negotiated an early retirement package in 2000. He has been published in a number of national magazines and has won numerous state and national writing awards. He and his wife, Mary, split their time between their Orlando home and Cape Canaveral beach condo and both remain satisfyingly busy in “semi-retirement.” Guest will speak to a Melbourne Tea Party group the evening of Nov. 1.