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Florida's GOP Primary Is Winner-Take-All; Political Ads Flood Sunshine State


And I'm Steve Inskeep on Florida's Gulf Coast, where we ran into Steven Wu yesterday. He's a psychologist. He plans to vote in today's big presidential primary, though he cannot stand to follow the campaign.

STEVEN WU: You know, I don't watch the news too much. It's just that the world is so getting so depressing. And the work that I do as a clinical psychologist, all I do is listen to tragedies and bad stuff all day. I don't want to turn on the news and listen to more of it.

INSKEEP: This means he also has not seen the political ads flooding Florida. As a public service, our TV critic Eric Deggans, who lives around here, has been watching for him.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Growing threats face our country every day.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Spooky music, the scary headlines, the commanding voice telling tales of waste and corruption, yeah, it's election season in Florida again. Where I live, the Tampa Bay area, politicians and their supporters spend a lot of money on TV ads. That's because it's a heavily populated area in a swing state.


BOB: I was duped by the Donald.

DEGGANS: That's Bob, the star of a commercial paid for by the conservative American Future Fund, criticizing GOP candidate Donald Trump.


BOB: I paid $35,000 at Trump University, and all I got was a picture of myself with a cutout of Donald Trump.

DEGGANS: This is actually one of two ads I've seen regularly on local TV stations featuring people who claim they were bilked by Trump University. But this one also mimics many other ads targeting a large number of retirees and senior citizens who live here. Bob's gray haired and a little tired-looking and alleges the GOP front-runner ran a business that cheated him. It's the worst nightmare for many folks on fixed incomes here, a message designed to earn their sympathy and identification. But when Trump decided to pay for an ad in Florida, he didn't boost himself. He criticized an opponent, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Corrupt Marco Rubio has spent years defrauding the people of Florida.

DEGGANS: The commercial goes on to criticize Rubio for things like missing votes in the Senate against a montage of grainy black and white photos as blood-red graphics fill the screen. When attacks like these air in a commercial paid for by political action committee, sometimes the viewer knows little about those who made it or their agenda. At least when you hear this...


DONALD TRUMP: I'm Donald Trump, and I approve this message.

DEGGANS: ...There is no doubt who this criticism is coming from. Then of course, there are the ads which aim to educate.


BERNIE SANDERS: Is the economy rigged? Well, the 15 richest Americans acquired more wealth in two years than the bottom 100 million people combined.

DEGGANS: Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders has run other negative ads with gloomy music and ominous narration. But in this ad airing in Florida, Sanders lays out his economic message in a direct appeal to the voter. That's a big difference from an ad rival Hillary Clinton planned to air in Orlando.


MORGAN FREEMAN: She says their names, Trayvon Martin.

HILLARY CLINTON: Trayvon Martin, shot to death.

FREEMAN: Dontre Hamilton.

CLINTON: Dontre Hamilton, unarmed.

FREEMAN: Sandra Bland.

CLINTON: Sandra Bland did nothing wrong.

DEGGANS: Clinton is known for her appeal to voters of color, so it makes sense to air this ad in Orlando as close to Sanford, Fl., where an unarmed, black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot dead four years ago. And it doesn't hurt to have one of the nation's best-known African American actors, Morgan Freeman, voice it for you. Especially the past few weeks, ads with critical negative messages seem to really outnumber more positive political ads on local TV here. As a critic, I worry mostly about the cumulative effect. These messages can become a sort of white noise of negativity, leaving me and my fellow Floridians feeling gloomy and discouraged by the whole political process. It's a good thing my Netflix account is paid up.

INSKEEP: Our TV critic and Florida resident Eric Deggans.


All right, Steve. Now here in the state of Ohio, people know that routine. Every four years, presidential hopefuls come and pass through the state. There will be even more activity this year because the Republican convention is taking place here in Cleveland. And all this means good material for Mike Polk Jr. He's a Cleveland comedian, and we met him at a dive bar called Becky's.

MIKE POLK JR.: It's always been risky to talk about politics on stage unless you are known as a political comedian. You can't go into a room where they don't know who you are and start talking politics. You can do it, but you're going to end up ostracizing half the crowd.

GREENE: Oh, people would judge you immediately.

POLK: Absolutely.

GREENE: Like, half the crowd would just say, I'm not going to listen to this guy.

POLK: Yes, absolutely. But with this, it's so ridiculous, and it's so cartoonish that you can actually - it's made it safe to talk about politics and comedy again, which is new to us. And you can at this point go in and say - because whether you agree with this guy or you agree with this person or whatnot, you can always say, this is ridiculous, isn't it, folks? And everybody's on board.

GREENE: So your city is going to get a lot of attention this year. Do you like the sort of ups and downs of the amount of attention that Ohio gets like depending on...

POLK: I love it. And, you know, this is - as far as presidential electoral politics, this is nothing new to us, obviously, because we are always the swing state. We are inundated in a way that most states definitely are not around presidential election season because we are so 50/50. And so they have to come here, and it's so fun to watch these candidates march through here every single election season. And they are forced to pretend to enjoy our company...

GREENE: (Laughter).

POLK: ...And they're forced to pretend to enjoy our regional cuisine. There's nothing like watching Mitt Romney take a lackluster bite out of a giant corn beef sandwich and try not to grimace...

GREENE: (Laughter).

POLK: ...While posing for the cameras when he doesn't...

GREENE: Acting like it's the best thing ever.

POLK: And he's got to act like he absolutely loves it, even though you know his wife has him on some sort of vegan diet right now, you know?

GREENE: Is this a chance for Cleveland to show its best side to the world?

POLK: I absolutely think so. I do. And we're getting the place all gussied up right now, which has been very funny for us. You guys don't get to see this aspect of it, but soon as we heard that we actually got it, first of all, I think we were kind of surprised.

GREENE: The convention?

POLK: Yes, when we got - when we found out we got the convention because we throw our hat in the ring for all kinds of stuff like that. But we never really expect anybody, you know - it's like - it's like me in high school just asking hot girls to the prom. I - in...

GREENE: (Laughter).

POLK: I'm not assuming that they're going to say yes. I'm prepared for when they say no. But now all of a sudden one said yes. And I'm like, oh, my gosh. I've got to, like, get in shape.

GREENE: (Laughter).

POLK: You know, find a car and stuff like that. So now that's what we're doing. We have - we've been under construction for about the last eight months or so. One other funny thing that's been fun to watch is, you know, you can rent your houses out around here for the convention.

GREENE: Oh, like Airbnb and things like that?

POLK: Yes, that's been a huge thing amongst all of my scumbag friends who are trying to figure out if they can make their houses nice enough that a Republican might want to stay at them - or at least the staff of, you know, John Kasich might want to stay at the place, you know? So they're just like - I - you know, we're all just trying to figure out how to make our places more desirable on Craigslist by hanging up those crossed muskets above the fireplace and taking down all of our rainbow flags and whatnot in order to try and trick a Republican into coming and staying at our place for a little while.

GREENE: Well, cheers, Mike.

POLK: Cheers to you.

GREENE: Thanks for bringing us to Becky's.

POLK: No problem, welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.