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What other campaign surprises await us?

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 3, 2002

What fun. Now we can talk about our very own seven dwarfs.

That would be the seven men seeking the job being vacated by Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

What better way to refer to the guys who will fight it out on Sept. 10. I will not attempt to identify Dopey, Sleepy or Sleazy, er, Sneezy, and I'll let the voters determine whether there is anyone worthy of sweeping Snow White's floor. Maybe we'll all be surprised and burst into Someday My Prince Will Come. In the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, four candidates will share the ballot, meaning 25 percent of the voters who show up at the polls could decide who gets to be the nominee.

Only Education Commissioner Charlie Crist, a Republican, is very well known. He faces Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach and Solicitor General Tom Warner for the GOP nomination. Burt and Warner are virtually unknown outside their hometowns.

Sen. Buddy Dyer of Orlando, Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox and former deputy attorneys general George Sheldon and Walter Dartland are duking it out on the Democratic side. None are well known, but Sheldon has been on the statewide ballot in recent years. Crist defeated him for education commissioner in 2000 by about 500,000 votes.

The race is attracting little attention in a state that seems focused on Janet Reno and Jeb Bush.

Butterworth added to our political entertainment by running for the state Senate. The news cheered Democrats and bewildered Republicans.

Just when you think you know what to expect in Florida politics, something very different happens. Like Secretary of State Katherine Harris not having a clue what the election law says.

Who would have expected Federal Express to crash an airplane and add to the chaos surrounding Harris and her Division of Elections?

Everyone wanted to know if Harris was anywhere near the airport.

No, she didn't have anything to do with the crash that toasted qualifying papers, checks and even our own paychecks. But Democrats like to blame her for everything.

Last week, as chaos reigned over the state's efforts to collect the right amount of money from candidates who wanted to run, I was with several Florida officials in the middle of a Denver convention hall.

We were discussing the impact the plane crash was having on the election.

"You must be talking about Florida. That kind of thing could only happen there," noted a guy who overheard us.

Yes, we are the laughing stock of the nation.

Legislators from other states laughed long and hard at the Floridians who went to Denver for the National Conference of Legislatures.

Some of them were from states where the political scene is pretty boring. We urged them to come on down and enjoy the fun.

As for who will control the House and Senate next year, you need only look at a few numbers.

In a state where registered Democrats still outnumber Republicans, 188 Republican candidates and 133 Democrats qualified for 160 legislative seats. In the House, the big news was the number of Libertarian candidates, an indication that the party might be better organized than the Democrats since the Libertarians have about 10,000 registered voters while the Democrats have 3.8-million. The Republicans have 3.5-million.

In the House, 145 Republicans qualified for 120 seats. There were 97 Democrats and the 73 Libertarians. The Democrats better not look back, something may be gaining on them.

The most obvious sign that Democrats are in retreat is this: Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher, a Republican, took one of the state's most powerful jobs -- chief financial officer -- without opposition.

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