Posted on Wed, Sep. 01, 2004
2 win in walk, face tough
By Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo
Betty Castor and Mel Martinez will battle for Sen. Bob Graham's U.S.
In a battle for Sen. Bob Graham's seat, Democrats picked a former state
education commissioner and Republicans chose a former U.S. housing
Mel Martinez scrapped and scraped his way to a surprisingly easy victory
Tuesday in the bare-knuckle Republican U.S. Senate primary, while
Democrat Betty Castor surprised no one by sauntering into her party's
Martinez defied pollsters who predicted a dead-even race as he
enthralled voters with a faith-based, only-in-America story of a Cuban
refugee who went on to work in the White House.
But his last-minute barrage of attacks against main rival Bill McCollum
began to undermine his nice-guy image.
It may have been unnecessary -- judging by his comfortable margin of
victory -- and might prove damaging in a general election campaign.
McCollum withheld his endorsement Tuesday night.
And Martinez's conservative views on gay rights and abortion leave
Castor and her allies with plenty of potentially jarring quotes that
could be swiftly turned into Democratic campaign propaganda.
In contrast to Martinez, Castor ran a careful, mainstream campaign that
avoided divisive social issues and focused on feel-good topics like
improving healthcare and schools. Florida's former education
commissioner picked up fundraising steam and enjoyed gangbuster support
from Emily's List, a Democratic fundraising organization that helps
elect women who favor abortion rights.
''I will fight for the values that unite us, and I will never stand for
the divisive politics that pit one American against another,'' Castor
told several hundred jubilant supporters at the grandiose century-old
Italian Club in Tampa. She was introduced by the incumbent himself, Sen.
Martinez will be a formidable foe. President Bush's former housing
secretary will bask in the White House's fundraising might and a
possible place in the history books: He would be the nation's first
''There's a great deal of emotion associated with that,'' Martinez said
``It's a historic moment for me, the nation and my family. For people
who identify with me because of my ethnic background and our common
heritage, I am just very proud to be carrying that standard. I hope to
do it with pride, honor and integrity.''
WATCHING FROM AFAR
At the Republican National Convention in New York, the Florida
delegation kept a watchful eye on the primary results.
Now the race will go national. In a contest that could tip the balance
of power in the U.S. Senate, political bigwigs, cash-rich special
interest groups and the parties' fundraising machines will all exert
So will President Bush, who hopes Martinez will boost
Republican-friendly Hispanic turnout on Nov. 2, especially in South
Florida. Signaling their co-dependence, Martinez won a coveted speaking
role at the party convention Thursday -- right before President Bush.
Castor had every reason to be confident in Tuesday's race, with most
polls giving her a double-digit lead over her chief rival, Congressman
Peter Deutsch. Eager to retain the seat held for 18 years by Graham, the
Democratic political establishment rushed to anoint her as the nominee.
The party's Washington-based Senate committee went so far as to arrange
a conference call with Castor advisors discussing general election
strategy two hours before the polls had closed.
And at 9:07 p.m., with more than half of the votes yet to be tallied,
the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee hailed her
''Whoever won the Olympic gold for pole vaulting should send it back to
Athens and then to Tampa,'' Graham said at Castor's post-election party.
`Tonight I am happy to pass the baton to Betty.''
Castor said her opponents all called to offer their support.
McCollum conceded the Republican race at 10:40 p.m., after calling
Martinez to congratulate him and asking for a ''good hearty discussion''
about how he conducted the campaign in the past few days.
McCollum refused to elaborate, but made it clear he would not endorse
Martinez until they ``have that conversation.''
He told his supporters: ``There are a few things that have happened over
the last two days that I'm not happy with and I'm sure you're not happy
During the homestretch of the campaign, Martinez blanketed mailboxes and
televisions with attack ads deriding McCollum as ''anti-family'' and a
darling of the ''radical homosexual lobby'' because he supports
legislation against hate crimes and in favor of embryonic stem-cell
The harsh language prompted Republican Gov. Jeb Bush to urge him to pull
the commercial and the St. Petersburg Times to yank its endorsement,
saying it didn't want to be associated with ``bigotry.''
Castor, the only Democrat who had run statewide before, claimed
front-runner status from the beginning.
She kept a leisurely campaign schedule when compared to the
hard-charging pace and style of Deutsch.
Some Democrats may have been turned off by Deutsch's tough criticism of
Castor and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.
But to the end, the 22-year elected official was unbending.
''I have no regrets about this campaign,'' said Deutsch, after giving
his wife and mother flowers at a poolside gathering with emotional
supporters at a Fort Lauderdale hotel.
Penelas, who tried to salvage a struggling campaign by calling for the
withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, didn't even win his home
He told friends and family: ``We ran a good campaign that we can be
Herald staff writers Cara Buckley, Lesley Clark, Frank Davies, Mary
Ellen Klas, Hannah Sampson and Casey Woods contributed to this report.
Source: The Miami Herald