Unlike Casey, Zimmerman Trial Verdict won’t Spawn Political Spin-Off Drama

Sanford had the attention of the nation Saturday night as the verdict came down on the George Zimmerman trial. Zimmerman was found not guilty on the charges of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter over the death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin.

This is the 2nd major trial to take place in Central Florida in 3 years. The Casey Anthony murder trial was an even bigger spectacle with a media village engulfing an empty a lot on Orange Avenue and like Zimmerman, Anthony was also found Not Guilty in the death of her young daughter Caylee.

The end of that trial was the beginning of one of the biggest political stories of 2012. I’m talking about the path that led Former Casey Anthony Prosecutor, and current Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Jeff Ashton to victory over his former boss and 20 year incumbent Lawson Lamar.

The “Casey Race” was one of the nastiest contests of the previous election cycle and in my opinion, the biggest political rivalry of the year. It was high drama with both candidates determined to talk about the Public Office at stake, but with the cloud of the biggest trial in the county’s history over them. Ashton ultimately won that race, after a brilliant sequence of personal and political decisions made, capitalizing on a case he actually lost.

The Pundits won’t see that kind of Political Drama this time. Not here in Seminole and not in Duval County where the Case also has roots. Here is why.

This case wasn’t as “sexy” as the Casey Anthony Trial: Keeping things in perspective, a young man is dead but the media and the audiences involved wanted the dirt behind the stories involved. The audiences were rooting for Ashton and his fellow prosecutor, Linda Drane-Burdick because they wanted answers and Anthony herself was an easy villain. Who killed Caylee? How could a mother go so long with out reporting her child missing? How was Casey’s party lifestyle involved? Who knew what?

We know what happened in the Zimmerman trial. It was a question over how the jury would interpret the evidence and both party’s cases. There was no mystery involved.

Both Sides have Allies and Enemies: It was Casey against the world during her trial, that wasn’t the case with Zimmerman, where you had strangers donating thousands to his defense account. Leaders of the Black Community organized rallies attended by thousands in Trayvon’s memory and calling for justice. The response on social media has had voices sticking up for the Martin family and George Zimmerman.

Any future candidates from this case will have a built in block of voters with a negative opinion of them.

“Cashing In” on this trial won’t be as easy: Ashton, Defense Attorney Jose Baez and eventually (if the courts go her way) Casey Anthony herself, all found a way to make money from that case. Ashton used revenues from a Book Deal, Media Tour, and Public Appearances to infuse his campaign with cash along the way. No one involved in this trial will be able to replicate his success in that regard.

And if you don’t like Judge Debra Nelson, you’ve got time and Name ID against you: Nelson was unopposed and re-elected in 2012, that means potential challengers will have to wait six years to take her on. Even if she was up for re-election, Casey Anthony Judge Belvin Perry enjoyed positive Name ID and a significant fundraising advantage against his challenger last year and was easily re-elected. Nelson has her critics but ultimately her disciplined handling of this case will be favorable.

Perhaps the best effect of the Casey Race was that it got to public interested in one of the more important races on the ballot. It’s unfortunate that voters don’t pay more attention to the contests until they’re seeing the results play out on cable tv.

And they’re not going to see it after this trial.

By the way, Ashton will be personally prosecuting the 4 young suspects behind the recent shootings in Osceola County. A statement from one of the four alleged shooters say they did it “because it was fun” Personally taking cases was one of his biggest talking points on the campaign trail last year.

The Zimmerman trial won't spin off into any political grudge matches

The Zimmerman trial won’t spin off into any political grudge matches

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Orlando’s Top Ten Political Rivalries 2012: #1 The “Casey Race” Lawson Lamar vs. Jeff Ashton

Here we are, and we’re going to finish our rivalry series at the end of the year, with the announcement that kicked off Orlando Politics at the beginning of the year. The “Casey Race” for Orange-Osceola State Attorney between longtime incumbent Lawson Lamar and Casey Anthony Prosecutor Jeff Ashton.


Florida Politics with Frank Torres. And here we are, the number 1 political rivalry here in Orlando from 2012 and this one got started very early in the year. It started with a cold declaration on a freezing January morning in Downtown Orlando. It also involved the backdrop of a national story. A story that had the nation in front of it’s television for hours a day. The number political rivalry of 2012 is The “Casey Race”, the race for Orange-Osceola Attorney between incumbent Lawson Lamar and Casey Anthony Prosecutor Jeff Ashton. A bitter race, a race that ran high on emotions, alot of what happened behind the scenes of the biggest trial the nation has scene over the past few years and some finger pointing over the outcome of the trial. You’ll remember, Anthony accused of killing her young daughter. The trial landed right here in Orlando, you had new trucks parked on Orange Avenue for months covering this trial. And after the race was over Ashton retired. Then he announced he would run against his former boss Lamar on that January morning.

A lot of interesting angles in the race besides the Casey factor. You had one of Lamar’s own guys coming after him, after Ashton retired, he wrote a big and did the talk show circuit, “The View” and things like that. And the book sold well. He was everywhere. A movie was made after the book and he was casted by Rob Lowe. The movie comes out next month, check the dates, it’s around the anniversary of when Ashton announced.

More subplots. There were two other candidates. Defense attorney Yoerg Jager and fellow attorney from the state Attorney’s office Ryan Williams. They both jumped in the race, both ended up dropping out and each lined up behind opposing candidates. Williams behind Ashton, Jager behind Lamar. It also came down to a discussion over the efficiency of the office. Was the technology outdated? Were the attorneys overworked? Should the State Attorney try cases? Or was the role of the State Attorney to be a manager and administrator? And it would come down to that discussion.

Well who won? Well, Jeff Ashton won, but the story that makes this the number 1 rivalry isn’t just the fact that it’s the “Casey Race”. It wasn’t over the duties of the office. It was actually one of the events that happened the night of the election. After Ashton was the announced winner, Casey Anthony’s father George went to congratulate Ashton on his victory. I remember when I saw Anthony making his way to the party. No one knew what he was going to do. He actually arrived to the party and embraced Ashton. In a truly dramatic conclusion to the year’s biggest rivalry.

I wrote a blog post about this race. Did Jeff Ashton plan it all out? Did he know from the day he retired that he was going to challenge Lamar? And if he did, how carefully was it planned? From the media tour to taking the profits of that media tour and using it in the campaign. I believed he benefited from the celebrity status he got from the trial. But was it planned? Only he would be able to tell you. That’s why it was the biggest rivalry of the year and Jeff Ashton came out the winner.

It’s been great being able to deliver this rivalry series to you. Over the year, there are so many races, so much negative dialogue it’s difficult to pull them apart. These were the top races I believe were the biggest rivalries of the year, that had the most tense exchanges between candidates, and negative messages. I enjoyed bringing it to you. It’s been a great series. Before the year is over we’ll have our “Year in quotes” for Florida Politics with Frank Torres, I’ll see you next time!


10. Buddy Dyer vs. “The Field”
9. Connie Mack vs. Charlie Sheen
8. John Tegg vs. Jerry Demings
7. Scott Plakon vs. Karen Castor Dentel
6. Orange County Activists vs. The Orange County Commission
5. Charlie Crist vs. The Florida GOP
4. Chris Dorworth vs. The Media
3. Alan Grayson vs. Todd Long
2. Sandy Adams vs. John Mica

The race for Orange-Osceola State Attorney was the biggest political rivalry of the year

The race for Orange-Osceola State Attorney was the biggest political rivalry of the year

Thompson, Pena, Huckeba Big Winners Tuesday. Your Primary Elections Wrap-up

Tuesday night brought high drama with conclusions to Mica vs. Adams, Ashton vs Lamar, and just the beginning of Todd Long vs. Alan Grayson but there was a lot of other action out there.

Let’s break it all down.

Geraldine Thompson defeats Victoria Siplin.

A lot of anger over how this State Senate D12 primary contest was going. You had former State Rep. Geraldine Thompson running against Victoria Siplin, wife of Gary Siplin, the controversial termed out State Senator. Thompson was outfront in her campaign with a strong, realistic, campaign message. She won the Orlando Sentinel endorsment and made herself available at public forums, and events. Victoria ran a shadow campaign of sorts, staying away from the voters and letting direct mail do most of the work. When her husband started allegedly using his own mail resources to help his wife, it set off alarms and the local media smelled smoke. Thompson walked to a %56 to %44 victory and faces Fritz Seide in the general.

Geraldine Thompson

Marco Pena beats Coach “P” Plasencia, Joe Saunders defeats Shayan Elahi in State House 49 primaries.

In what was a tough to call race in the days leading up to Tuesday, Marco Pena beat Rene Plasencia %52 to %48 in the GOP primary. Pena trumpeted endorsements from Governor Jeb Bush and locally important endorsements from former OC Mayor Rich Crotty and Current Orange County Commissioners Jennifer Thompson and John Martinez. Plasencia ran a fine ground campaign but couldn’t make enough noise to cover the difference. He’ll be back.

Pena will face Democrat Joe Saunders in the general election. Saunders defeated Shayan Elahi %65 to %35. Saunders had more visibility on the ground and benefited from strong fundraising from South Florida.

Marco Pena

Bow-Tie Wins. Voters choose Huckeba and platform in Orange County Tax Collector Race.

Jim Huckeba defeated two other opponents on Tuesday night. Huckeba, who says he will dismantle the office if elected won with 38%. Eliminating the office has been a popular idea with the media, and apparently voters. He’s been careful to illustrate the process to voters, he won’t be able to snap his fingers and save the tax payers thousands. It would be a process possibly subjected to a vote.

Huckeba faces 96 year old Earl K. Wood who wasn’t going to run for re-election before finding out former Mayor Crotty might seek the office. Then this happened.

Jim Huckeba

Damiani and Clarke head to November Run-Off in Orange County District 3.

In the race for Orange County Commission District 3. It will be the two top vote getters Lui Damiani and Pete Clarke. Damiani holds a heavy fundraising advantage with donations from lobbyists, attorneys, and developers and has been able to afford radio ads. Clarke despite mostly walking and talking to voters was only behind %31 to %23. District 3 is looking for it’s first elected commissioner in over two years.

Pete Clarke

Edwards beats Duncan in Orange County District 5:

Incumbent commissioner Ted Edwards was able to defeat Gina Duncan in their D5 contest. Duncan had a couple of decent talking points to go after Edwards with but not enough to convince the voters they needed a change. Edwards’ constituents would be wise to convince him to try to revive the rental car-surcharge that would bring dollars into the community and put a small additional costs to tourist.

Ted Edwards

Randolph Bracy, Bruce Antone, Jason Brodeur, Kelli Stargel and future Florida House Speaker Chris Dorworth all won their respective primary or final races.

Kelli Stargel

Ashton played “Casey Race” like a game of Chess

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.

Was this the way Ashton wanted this race to go?

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Mica, Ashton, and Long Win Primary Night Races

Tonight was the night for John Mica, Jeff Ashton, and Todd Long.

Mica, the longtime incumbent was able to defeat freshman Congresswoman Sandy Adams in a national primary that pitted the fellow popular housemembers against each other. In a classic matchup of Establishment vs. Tea Party, Mica used his fundraising advantage and name ID to run a strong, well rounded campaign that displayed superiority on the lawns and television of D7 Voters.

An era ended tonight as Orange-Osceola attorney Lawson Lamar met defeat by one of his Lieutenants. Casey Anthony Prosecutor Jeff Ashton took his celebrity, the book deals, the rob lowe movies, and the media tour and used it to beat his boss. You can’t give all of the credit to the Casey trial. Ashton is a longtime prosecutor and takes that experience into office.

The dark horse in the Congressional District 9 primary Todd Long found victory in the 9th Congressional Republican primary. Long beat Osecola Commissioner and State Rep. John Quinones, School Board Member and war vet Julius Melendez, and Businessman Mark Oxner. Long will go on to face controversial ex-congressman Alan Grayson. You can give Grayson the assist in this one. He spent over 100k in negative ads. Still Long is a good candidate and the party should unite behind him.

Much more analysis to come tonight!