FIGHTIN' WORDS

THE INEXORABLE JAY FANT

The front-running state rep candidate is besieged by his opponent’s last-minute gambit

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I live in beautiful Avondale, but I've gotta tell ya, I've found it difficult to care a whit about the House District 15 Republican primary race over here. I've seen Jay Fant's canned ads, with their empty, shtick-y conservative word salad and calculated bluster and hokum about "stopping Obamacare," and I know to whom they are targeted: the Lexus SUV crowd, the local ladies who lunch, with maybe a smattering of that blue-collar appeal just to build up the coalition of people who like those Chinese-made "Stand Up for America — Be American!" bumper stickers.

I'd tuned out on this race, as it seemed like just another "who's more conservative?" pissing match. And that reaction is exactly what the Fant campaign wanted. The schlock of the TV spots and the mailer photograph, with Fant gazing into a sunset over the river — a scene oddly reminiscent of a Cialis commercial — was exactly the kind of played-out junk we've been seeing in Florida since George W. Bush was being compared to Winston Churchill. The heavily self-financed Fant campaign assumed the frontrunner pose, acting like it had an Ander Crenshaw sort of inevitability — and, weirdly, touting endorsements from the NRA and National Right to Life that turned out to be as much as fabrication as the rest of his gimmick.

Fant's messages? The same ol' rich-boy bootstrap shuck and jive, all warmed-over smooth jazz. "The people of our community are tired of government run amok," one of his releases tells us. "They want us to return to the traditional values of American exceptionalism and fiscal responsibility. This country was built on hard work and ingenuity, not on entitlements and government handouts. If we want to see growth again, we must turn back to the principles that made us great."

This country was built as much on tariffs and conscripted labor as it was "hard work and ingenuity," but never mind that. This railing against government handouts, this illusory badinage about the "principles that made us great" — it's just so much Grand Old Party boilerplate.

Still, Fant's dominated the polls, so he's been coasting. In announcing his adherence to a so-called clean campaign pledge, in which he and his primary opponent agreed not to malign each other in the grand tradition of recent Florida Republican primaries, he didn't deign to mention his opponent by name. (It's Paul Renner, by the way.)

Perhaps he should have; in campaigning the way he has, as an agent of inexorableness, his operation comes off as complacent, leaving itself open for a haymaker in the form of a blistering mail piece from the Better Florida Fund, a front group for Renner consultant Marc Reichelderfer.

Appropriating information already in the public domain about the shady last days of the Fant family's First Guaranty Bank, days full of risky loans to buddies and other questionable accounting practices, the BFF mailer made it seem like Jay Fant's tenure at First Guaranty was akin to Nero's in Rome, an orgy of corruption and malfeasance so beyond the pale that Halliburton should have been involved. Serious charges, but why not? If Renner loses, his political life is likely done.

Fant is disappointed that the clean campaign pledge was breached — but he shouldn't be. The pledge, like the just war theory, is self-serving hooey, and it's a wonder he got Renner to sign off on that fraud in the first place. The fact that Renner didn't technically break the pact, since the mailer came from BFF, is all the better. This hollow pledge is a Munich pact in what was otherwise an utterly hollow, spiritless campaign on 
both sides.

Do Republicans really give a flip if the charges levied upon Fant by the mailer are true? Cynics say no. We'll find out on primary day, Aug. 26, if the 11th-hour sucker punch has KO'd the frontrunner. If Renner sends a follow-up mailer with some more blockbuster dirt, odds are it'll drop before you read this, and it might be enough to make a difference. If he waits until the last few days before the election, Fant may have enough support to get through. These Avondale/Riverside voters like their candidates as predictable as their lawn services, and Fant reads to them from a very familiar script.

Tags: jay fant, jacksonville, politics, state house district 15
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