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Democrats face calls to denounce mailer attacking Black GOP candidate

 Republican Florida SD3 candidate Corey Simon is depicted in this mailer on a shooting target in an ad paid for by the Democratic Party.
Evan Power/Leon County GOP Chairman
Republican Florida SD3 candidate Corey Simon is depicted in this mailer on a shooting target in an ad paid for by the Democratic Party.

Republican Corey Simon — who's African American — is depicted on a shooting target in a campaign mailer that was paid for by the Democratic Party in the race for Florida Senate District 3.

Democrats are facing calls from Republicans to denounce a mailer that depicts a Black GOP state Senate candidate's face on a shooting target.

The ad was circulating in the race for North Florida Senate District 3 — which covers 13 mostly rural Panhandle counties, including Gadsden County, the only county in the state with a majority Black population.

Democratic state Sen. Loranne Ausley is in a tough race to keep her seat against Republican challenger Corey Simon, who's African American.

The brochure-style ad depicts Simon as a shooting target. The back of the mailer shows photos of children also as shooting targets, but riddled with bullets. The ad was first reported by Tallahassee-based news outlet City and State Florida.

The mailer focuses on the issue of school safety and highlights Simon’s opposition to stricter gun laws.

“It doesn’t matter what your intention is, this is all the voters are seeing," said Matthew Isbell, an elections data analyst, who's worked on Democratic Party campaigns. "You have given the Simon campaign and his supporters this clear opening to drag her [Ausley] on it, and she already is not strong with African American voters."

The brochure didn't come directly from Ausley's campaign, and she's denied responsibility for its approval. In an emailed statement, Ausley said it was "poorly done" and accused the Simon campaign of trying to divert attention away from the issues of school safety and gun violence.

Isbell adds Ausley "underperformed to a first-time candidate who does not have the name ID that Corey Simon does” when she ran against African American Republican Marva Preston in 2020.

Ausley defeated Preston by seven percentage points, even though Biden won the previously-drawn district by nine points.

The district now leans much less Blue. Based on 2020 presidential election totals, Democrats have a three-point advantage over Republicans after state lawmakers drew new legislative boundaries earlier this year.

As a retired NFL player and Florida State University linebacker, Simon is well-known in the region.

Because the race is especially competitive, denouncing the mailer could only help Ausley, Isbell said. "If the Republicans want to keep making it a story, they'll keep making it a story, and any story that runs with Republicans make this an issue, and Ausley campaign refuses to talk about it — that looks bad," Isbell said.

Ausley has denied responsibility for the mailers because they didn't come from her office, instead they were paid for by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

In a statement, she said the mailer was "poorly done" and accused the Simon campaign of trying to steer attention away from the issues of gun violence and school safety.

"I trust the voters to make a decision about which issue is more important to keeping our schools and our kids safe," Ausley said.

Two Black Republicans — state Rep. Webster Barnaby and state House candidate Berny Jacques — described the ad as having "racist" and "dangerous" implications. The ad was paid for by the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

"We hope that members of the Florida Black Caucus will join us in condemning this mailer, and those who approved its creation and distribution. We may not see eye-to-eye on everything, but surely we can agree that political disagreement should never include dangerous imagery of a black man being used for target practice," the joint-statement reads.

Democratic candidate for governor Charlie Crist recently told conservative media outlet Florida Voice regarding the mailer quote: “We can do better."

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Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City, Florida. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She got her start in public radio at WAER-FM in Syracuse, New York, where she was a part-time reporter, assistant producer and host. She has a B.A. in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University. When she’s not reporting the news, she enjoys reading classic fiction and thrillers, hiking with members of the Florida Trail Association and doing yoga.
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