George W. Bush and Karl Rove showed the power of old-fashioned, shoe-leather campaigning in 2004 with an army of volunteer door knockers and phone bankers. Barack Obama built on their lesson in 2008, building a massive, volunteer-driven campaign in every neighborhood in every swing state — and some not-so-swing states.Â How quaint, how yesterday.
Two complete unknowns — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Greene and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott — are leading contenders thanks entirely to spending millions on carefully scripted, focus-grouped ads airing in every corner of Florida. “For all the talk about the importance of field and social networking — and they are important — fundamentally you have to introduce yourself,” said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who ran Obama’s Florida campaign. “People have said [a strong grass-roots program] can mean two or three points and make the difference on the margins. But in a lot of cases in a state like Florida, you can’t get to the margins unless you are able to have a significant presence on television.”
What’s more, Florida’s population is constantly changing, and unlike other states with deep community roots, countless residents view the state more as a residence than a home. It adds up to a political landscape where TV is king.Â Both candidates brush off the suggestion they’re out to buy the election, saying they’re outsiders determined to change politics as usual. Maybe you can’t buy an election. But millions of dollars on TV certainly gets you right in the middle of the game.