By KEITH LAING
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 22, 2010……….When term-limited state Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson launched his bid to unseat six-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd last year, very few political observers took him seriously.
But with the August 24 Democratic Primary race drawing close, it is increasingly clear that at least one North Florida politico is taking Lawson seriously: Boyd.
Boyd, a former co-chair of the House’s fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, has aired television ads criticizing Lawson’s votes on state budgets in the Florida Senate, which often followed deals with Republican leaders to protect the state workers who dominate his district. It’s the first time in years Boyd has had to do much in the way of advertising to protect himself – and from a fellow Democrat.
Boyd also had a staffer track Lawson with a video camera in the hopes the state senator would put his foot in his mouth, an increasingly common tactic in political campaigns, which led to an incident over the weekend in which Lawson took the camera and Boyd accused him of theft.
The back and forth over the camera, which Lawson said he paid to replace, as well as the fact that Boyd would even bother to shadow Lawson, has fueled the perception among some political observers that the long-term incumbent is worried about the 6-foot-8 state Capitol fixture.
National politics watchers have noticed too. National Journal’s The Hotline included Boyd, D-Monticello, as one of the most vulnerable representatives, including him for the first time in its list of at-risk House seats.
“He knows he’s vulnerable and has been airing TV ads for months in an attempt to boost his image,” the Hotline article said. “It has not helped matters that he voted for the health care law. Alone, that would be a treacherous vote in such a GOP-leaning CD. But worse, the bill included education loan provisions that led to the cutting of 700 jobs at a local Sallie Mae facility. Things are not looking good for Boyd.”
The Website is not ready to crown Lawson, D-Tallahassee, the Democratic nominee, however, calling the long-time state lawmaker “underfunded.”
According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ OpenSecrets.com, which tracks congressional campaign fundraising, Boyd has raised $1.2 million through the first quarter of 2010, while Lawson has only taken in $149,465. As of March 31, Boyd has $1.5 million on hand, compared to just $52,161 for Lawson.
But Lawson’s campaign released a poll last fall showing him holding a 4 percent lead over Boyd, and his campaign says Boyd had internal polling that showed similar results.
Despite apperances, Boyd says he’s not worried. In a brief interview with the News Service of Florida after speaking at a Tallahassee event this week, Boyd said he was not airing the television commercial because he felt threatened by Lawson.
“It’s an important time for our democracy and an important for people to engage,” he said. “We’re doing our best to communicate about what we do. We do that all the time, whether it is E-mail, mail, letters or television.”
Boyd said he was also not concerned that the negative turn of the campaign would overshadow the issues, saying “I’m trying to keep the focus on issues” like the Gulf Coast oil spill and “less on the politics.”
“If you do the policy, the politics will take care of themselves,” he said.
But in a telephone interview with the News Service of Florida, Lawson said the politics are exactly why the District 2 race had taken a negative turn.
“A 14-year veteran in the Congress should be able to stand on his own record,” he said. “It’s a sign of desperation. They’re running six to eight ads on primetime every night, and a lot of them are negative.”
Lawson also pointed out that Boyd has touted support from Democratic establishment figures in Florida and Washington, D.C., and accepted campaign contributions from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink. Additionally, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham filmed a television commercial for Boyd.
But Lawson said he was not worried about either the fundraising deficit or Boyd’s institutional support. “I’ve been around 28 years, and I’ve never gotten any help from the party,” he said. “That’s not going to determine the election.”
Lawson said that Boyd’s ad campaign has actually helped to raise his visibility.
“I’ve gotten a lot of publicity over the past three months from Allen Boyd,” he said. “A lot of people know who am from Allen Boyd. He has something about Al Lawson (on TV) everyday. A lot of their negative campaign is actually helping me.”
However, Lawson acknowledged that he will not likely be able to raise the resources to fight back on television. Instead, he said, he’s forcing on grassroots campaigning, planning to knock on 10,000 doors in the district before the day of the primary.
“I feel a lot like David and Goliath,” he said. “All I’ve got is this slingshot. I can’t afford to miss.”