When the results to the Orange-Osceola State Attorney race came down, you knew State-Attorney elect Jeff Ashton was thinking “Check Mate” in his game of political chess with his former boss. He walked up to the podium and with a cheesy grin and in an a quasi-Urkel, Elf Voice said “Hi” to his supporters in attendance.
Yep, Check Mate, Game-Set-Match, Yahtzee, whatever way you want to put it, Ashton had it all planned out and executed with precision. Let’s break down the master plan that the former Casey Anthony prosecutor used to end an era that was over 20 years old.
1. Retire at the top of your game: Ashton retired at the conclusion of the Casey Anthony trial and his timing could not have been better. The main take-away of the trial that pushed this race in his favor, was that the public didn’t blame Ashton, Drane-Burdick, or even Lawson Lamar for Anthony walking out of jail. They blamed the jury. Ashton knew this. You could argue that at the retirement press conference, Ashton already knew he was going to challenge Lamar.
2. The Book will write itself, Whoopi and Rob Lowe will do the rest: “Imperfect Justice”. That’s a heck of a title for a trial that captivated a nation for a few months. The media tour was a given. The man who prosecuted Casey Anthony wants to talk? Book him. And within days after the book was released, Ashton was on “The View” and every other daytime talker. Then came the TV movie where the Ashton role was filled by Rob Lowe. Are you kidding me?! What was going to be next? Denzel Washington as Belvin Perry? Russell Crowe as Cheney Mason? The book flew to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list and Ashton gained celebrity status.
3. Don’t debate details. Debate Philosophy: Ashton’s biggest attack blurb during this campaign? “My opponent has only been in court once in 20 years.” He didn’t take the argument where his opponent wanted it to go. He didn’t talk about management, he talked about working in the courtroom. To the average voter this made a lot of sense. “Shouldn’t the State Attorney prosecute cases? They’re Lawyers. Isn’t that what lawyers do?” This worked in Ashton’s favor.
4. Take money from Celebrity status and take the fight to the air: Ashton loaned himself a lot of money. He spent it on media and it worked. Television (even though the ads were lame), radio, and every show appearance he could make. He treated debates like they were trials. In no less than 3 televised debates, Ashton used his energy to make his former boss look slow.
5. Make friends out of enemies and don’t forget grassroots: Two of the often overlooked factors on the Ashton campaign was first, the endorsement of his former foe Ryan Williams. Williams was liked during his time in the race but couldn’t find the traction to be competitive. After he dropped out, he endorsed Ashton a short time later. He was even present and thanked during Ashton’s victory speech.
Unless you were following his social media stuff, you might have missed Ashton’s grassroots efforts. He had strong phone banking efforts, a fair share of lawn signage and a strong presence at the polls, throughout early voting into election day.
6.Win and Reflect: Even with all of this in place, you’re still taking a huge risk going after a longtime incumbent and your former boss. Lamar’s arguments actually carried more water than Ashton’s and, he even recognized the Ashton plan and called him out on it a couple of weeks back. “He made money off of Casey Anthony” Lamar would say. He was right but it was too late in the game to change the outcome of the race.
BONUS: George Anthony crashes your victory party and delivers you newspaper headlines, and “morning after” media tour: This obviously wasn’t part of the plan, but the main story last night, outside of “Yoholand” was Casey’s father George making his way to the Ashton victory party, to embrace and congratulate him. In the “Casey Race” where both candidates pushed back at the notion that that case should be a factor in the contest, it could not have ended more dramatically.
You can ask Ashton if this was the way it was suppose to go. Celebrity beating Incumbency. He’ll only concede that his efforts were to “level the playing field”.
Was it? Only Ashton knows for sure but, he’s far too intelligent to believe that it wasn’t.