Original photo credit: Tampa Bay Times

Just a day after headlines trumpeted his promise to suspend his campaign during Hurricane Michael, Andrew Gillum, the Democrat nominee for governor, began waging a secretive campaign using the crisis as a backdrop to target voters on Facebook and other social media platforms. The controversial strategy involved staged photo ops and a series of attack ads and other videos that either attacked Gillum’s opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis, or promoted Gillum’s hurricane response efforts.

All of these highly coordinated campaign activities began within hours of Gillum condemning Republicans for airing a television ad that called attention to his poor performance during 2016’s Hurricane Hermine. He complained the timing of the Republican ad was unfair and in poor taste because he was busy prepping for Hurricane Michael’s landfall.

The GOP ad in question pointed out Gillum’s failures in 2016 during what turned out to be a relatively weak Hurricane Hermine, with wind-speeds registering less than 70 miles per hour at ground level when it made landfall, and weakening even further as it moved toward Tallahassee. Despite the weakness of the storm, it caught Tallahassee unprepared and Gillum was roundly criticized for his failures, including communication breakdowns between the city, county and state. The failures proved costly, leaving thousands in Tallahassee without power for six days after the storm, while some residents were forced to wait up to nine days.

Fast forward to early this week, when Gillum launched at least 30 different versions of a blatantly deceitful video attacking Ron DeSantis. The video began airing on Facebook on October 8th, the day after Gillum claimed he was suspending his campaign.  According to Facebook records, Gillum spent an estimated $20,000 pushing the digital-only ads to all voter age groups in Florida, with a slight bias toward women. The ads have garnered hundreds of thousands of impressions since October 8th.

The video in the ad features newly elected fellow Democrat Sheriff Walt McNeil, who criticizes DeSantis for calling attention to Gillum’s failures during Hurricane Hermine. But McNeil himself blatantly lies to viewers when he condemns the practice of using hurricane-related ads to attack political opponents:

“Ron DeSantis is lying about Mayor Andrew Gillum. And I’m appalled he’s using hurricanes to score political points.” 

McNeil ran his own hurricane-related attack ads to defeat then-incumbent Sheriff Mike Wood during the 2016 race for county sheriff. The attack ads were based on Wood’s use of county-owned generators being deployed at the private residences of county officials during the storm. That story was first published by The Capitolist.

Some of the other ads paid for by Gillum this week repeatedly used Hurricane Michael as the backdrop for portraying Gillum as a proactive politician. Dozens of different ads feature Gillum appearing on CNN during multiple cable TV appearances talking about Hurricane Michael before and after the storm.

Gillum’s storm-related photo ops, too, have generated controversy this week among Facebook users who openly accused Gillum of faking at least one such stop. A photo depicting Gillum holding a large tree branch became the subject of much analysis and speculation over the past day. Commenters noted Gillum’s apparently never-before-used work gloves and called attention to the fact that he was dragging around a large but lightweight branch – (the heavier ones have green leaves and are filled with water):

To be fair, politicians do photo ops all the time, even during major catastrophes like Hurricane Michael. But most are better at it than Andrew Gillum. One observer, who was in the area and saw this one unfold, provided The Capitolist with a first-hand account claiming that the photo below was entirely staged:

“The picture of Gillum ‘working’ was taken in my neighborhood. He was there long enough to get the footage of him helping, and then left,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified, citing fears that she would be attacked by Democratic operatives if her name was published.

Still, there is ample evidence that Gillum isn’t kicking back with his feet propped up, sipping ice-cold lemonade while 150,000 gallons of raw sewage spills into his city.

No…Gillum isn’t out there campaigning. No sir. He’s just making certain that Florida voters see him taking a selfie while leading utility trucks down the street, or making sure the Tampa Bay Times (which endorsed him) is on hand to verify that he and his chief of staff needed two tries and 45 minutes to cut a tiny branch clear a street(!) with a large chain saw:

Politicians are going to engage in photo ops. Politicians are going to campaign. But some politicians, like Andrew Gillum, are going to do badly staged photo ops while complaining that their opponent shouldn’t be campaigning at all.

Meanwhile, Tallahassee residents just want Gillum to stop complaining and get the power restored, hopefully a lot faster than two years ago.

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