But that's no longer the case.
In a mailer distributed to approximately 34,000 non-party-affiliated voting households on Friday, Democrat Bob Henriquez has decided that it's time to do some "comparisons" between him and his Republican opponent, state Senator Ronda Storms.
The front side of the page-sized mailer shows Henriquez standing next to a construction worker or perhaps a developer with some design plans. Very straight up. The back page is divided in half, with one side extolling Henriquez' virtues while working in the Legislature and for the Department of Children and Families. The right side shows a black-and-white photo of Storms looking somewhat demonic, with the phrase "Ronda Storms. Not What We Need," affixed next to her name.
Below that are three boxes all checked, noting a "History of Bullying," "Polarizing," and "Zero Real Experience."
It then contains two quotes from the Tampa Bay Times (presumably editorials), one written back in April of 2004 that says that "Storms..more interested in blowing things up than moving the county forward," referring to her tenure on the Hillsborough County Commission, and another quote from this past July, "Storms is hardly an ideal choice....a loose cannon...turning out or bad-mouthing those who disagreed with her."
In a brief conversation, Henriquez confirmed the mailer was sent by his campaign (there have been others sent by the Builders Association), and says the negative comments don't come from him, but the Times.
Speaking of the Times, they "doubled down" as the popular phrase goes, with an editorial in Saturday's paper.
The column says both candidates for the office are qualified, but that "Storms is a divisive force and a loose cannon who has made a career of pitting one group of people against another. There are few worse qualities in a leader whose office must be a model of equal treatment and fair play."
And there's more:
Storms said recently she was in the race "to clean up the office." She also suggested the staff was indifferent to property owners who felt their assessments were too high. These are the same us-against-them appeals that Storms has peddled for years. In reality, the office works well; the problem was with the outgoing appraiser, Rob Turner, who sent pornographic emails to a female subordinate. By tarring the entire office with Turner's ethical lapse, Storms has worsened staff morale and set back the effort to restore public confidence in the appraisal process. And she has raised expectations among some that she will go lighter on tax assessments.
Even with the fact that Storms has had a controversial past, that controversy has put her name in the news much more frequently than Henriquez over the past decade, which is why she has had a dominant advantage in name recognition since the August primary confirmed that the candidates would be running against each other this fall.
Henriquez acknowledges that it's been an uphill battle to inform Hillsborough voters about who he is and why he's qualified for the post. Now comes the "comparison" (re: negative) mailer for independent voters who may remember perhaps some of Storms' previous statements on gays, for example, that have made her a divisive figure in the past. As as we wrote on Wednesday after their one and only debate, Storms has been extremely low-key during this campaign (though the Times editorial board obviously takes exception to her comment about cleaning up Turner's office) regarding saying anything remotely controversial.
Henriquez says when it's all said and done he will have spent around $250,000 in the race, which he calls "remarkable" for the position he's seeking. (Correction- that was total spending in the race. Henriquez raised over $147,000 - Storms over $83,000). He said he's not worried that a strong showing for Mitt Romney would necessarily hurt his chances, saying he knows plenty of Republicans who are supporting him. And like other Democrats we've heard from today, he too is dismissing the Times' new poll that shows Romney defeating President Obama in Florida by five percentage points, 51-46.