John Thrasher

John Thrasher for Florida Senate

The Challenge

Florida Republican Senator Jim King passed away after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer in the summer of 2009. A special election to fill the venerable Senator’s office was scheduled, and a four-way Republican primary battle took shape that would set records for legislative election expenditures.

Data Targeting was brought on board to help John Thrasher, a former State House Speaker who had been out of office for nearly a decade. Thrasher lacked a geographic base in the 8th Senate District, which in those days stretched down the Atlantic Coast from Amelia Island to Daytona Beach. In initial polling, Thrasher was struggling to hold on to 3rd place in the Republican primary, and needed every bit of funding to increase his name recognition and carve a path to victory.

With business interests and trial lawyers ready to break the bank in this primary, Thrasher’s campaign had to be run aggressively, but wisely. Data Targeting’s team worked around the clock to find ways to create a winning edge.

Campaign Mail Examples

The Research

Research efforts were split between Data Targeting and several pollsters, with DT focusing particularly on SpecOps research, identifying hyper-local topics that voters cared about in their neighborhoods. Our research was shaped into neighborhood-level reports, which informed messaging for micro-targeted direct mail. These reports were also shared with grassroots staff and volunteers before precinct walks to ensure walkers were fluent in the issues voters cared about.

The Campaign

We produced all direct mail for the special primary election campaign, and produced more than 35 unique mail pieces in less than two months. We also created and placed digital ads on local websites, a tactic that is ubiquitous today, but almost unheard of for state elections in 2009. Our team provided creative input on television and radio advertising that helped expand Thrasher’s name recognition and challenge his opposition.

The Result

After starting the campaign with less than 15% support in polls, Thrasher ended up cruising to a victory in the special election: He won 39% of the vote in a four-way primary and beat his closest opponent by 12% and over 4,000 votes. Senator Thrasher would carry all five counties in the district, despite an onslaught of attack ads from dogged opposition groups. Thrasher’s election was completed after defeating a write-in candidate in the special general election, and he would continue representing the First Coast until his appointment as President of Florida State University in 2014.

Special Election Four-Way Primary Results