Rick Fahr May 20, 2016, 7:18pm


ORLANDO – One candidate’s perceived weakness could instead be a strength, according to a political science expert.

Aubrey Jewett, associate professor of political science at University of Central Florida, told Florida Record that even though District 9 State Attorney Jeffrey Ashton did not win the highly publicized murder trial of Casey Anthony, the name recognition derived from the trial may still help the Democrat in his primary race against challenger Aramis Ayala.

“I would favor Ashton currently at this early point in the race," Jewett said. "The notoriety he gained from prosecuting the Casey Anthony case is still what most people associate with him so his name recognition is still pretty strong and positive. However if Ayala demonstrates the ability to raise money and run a real campaign, then she does have a shot for an upset.”

When announcing her bid to unseat Ashton in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary, Ayala noted both the Anthony acquittal (referring to Ashton as “the failed Casey Anthony prosecutor”) and Ashton’s name being listed as a member of the AshleyMadison.com website, an online dating service catering to those interested in extramarital affairs.

Jewett said the website brouhaha could play a role in the race.

“The Ashley Madison scandal has faded, but if Ayala is able to raise money or outside groups that support her raise money, I suspect that it will be brought back up in ads,” he contended. “It was an embarrassment to say the least and could certainly hurt Ashton's attempt for re-election.”

Ashton was elected to the office in 2012.

Ayala formerly worked in the office and is now an attorney and law school professor in Orlando. Her campaign has focused on improving “efficiencies” in the office and streamlining its operations.

“For the challenger, the main issue seems to be what she perceives to be mismanagement of office resources and attorneys,” Jewett explained. “Ashton focused on a number of things he had done during his first term in his announcement, including starting an economic crimes unit and issuing more civil citations to young people rather than bringing stronger charges which required kids to come to court.”

Jewett added that the district has a “fairly high” percentage of black and Hispanic Democrats, saying that the demographics could favor Ayala against Ashton, who is Caucasian.

Florida’s District 9 covers Orange and Osceola counties. The largest city in the district is Orlando, and nearly 1.5 million people live in the district.

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