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Happytown: Ugly campaigning and early voting

Plakon campaign takes flak for Sandusky mailer; despite attempts to thwart early voting, people showed up in droves to cast their ballots

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While we were busy going to press on Tuesday evening, we elected a president! But since our deadline was hours before the polls even closed, we have no idea as we write this who won, how close the contest was, or whether we are spending Wednesday morning celebrating, sulking or demanding a recount. As you read this, there's a good chance your Happytown staff is hung over – both figuratively and literally, since we hosted a party at Bullitt Bar downtown to watch the election returns.(Were you there? You really should have been, we're sure it was a lot of fun.) Given the weeks we had leading up to Tuesday, we needed that drink. Bad.

First, there was the ugliness of last-minute campaigning that led into Election Day. That's nothing new, but even we were a little stunned to see the mailer sent out last week by the Committee to Protect Florida, featuring an image of convicted Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky. The mailer was sent in support of Republican State Rep. Scott Plakon, who's defending his seat from a challenge by Democrat Karen Castor Dentel, a schoolteacher from Maitland who says she opposes Plakon's support of "parent trigger" legislation that would allow parents to turn struggling public schools into privately managed charters.

On one side, the mailer had a photo of Sandusky wearing handcuffs and a prison jumper with the words, "Karen Castor Dentel would rather protect bad teachers and the union … than young and impressionable students." On the flip side, it had an image of Dentel and the claim that she would "use the courts to keep all teachers in the classroom – even those who prey on young people." That claim was apparently an attempt to attack her for opposing a 2011 measure by the state Legislature to eliminate tenure for teachers. She has no connection to Sandusky – or to any child molesters that we know of, for that matter – so his image was used purely for shock value and to mislead people.

Once the fliers started arriving in mailboxes, people started to cry foul and Plakon's campaign quickly distanced itself from them and the committee that sent them – with friends like these, who needs enemies, right? When the Weekly's Billy Manes (who's on vacation this week) called Plakon out publicly about the mailer on Facebook, Plakon quickly texted and called him to insist that he had nothing to do with it and that he also found its content despicable.

However, the Committee to Protect Florida is heavily supported by people Plakon should know fairly well – other House Republicans, namely incoming speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), helped raise more than $200,000 for the committee this season – so the group isn't just a bunch of anonymous, mysterious private interests.

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