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    Bronson supported by party of his rival

    The endorsements by Democrats come as polls show a dead-even race for the agriculture post.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published October 30, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- A room full of Democrats lined up Tuesday to support Republican Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson in his surprisingly close race against little-known Democrat David Nelson, a middle school librarian.

    The endorsements came just a week before Tuesday's election, with polls showing the race dead even. Pollsters think Nelson has benefitted from voter confusion with Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

    "It's clear Bronson is qualified and his opponent is not qualified," said Bob Crawford, who was agriculture secretary before quitting to head the Florida Citrus Commission. "David Nelson is not Bill Nelson."

    Crawford was joined by James Harold Thompson and T.K. Wetherell, both former House speakers who are now Tallahassee lobbyists; Wayne Mixson, who served three days as Florida governor after Bob Graham ; state Sen. Al Lawson of Tallahassee; and citrus baron Ben Hill Griffin Jr., who helped finance a campaign against the Democrat Nelson defeated in the Sept. 10 primary.

    "The black community would be extremely well served to elect Bronson," said the Rev. R. B. Holmes Jr., pastor of Bethel AME Church in Tallahassee.

    The Democrats said they have not met Nelson.

    "I've never met him either and I'm the candidate," said Bronson, a former state senator appointed agriculture commissioner by Gov. Jeb Bush last year.

    Nelson answered the telephone at his campaign headquarters in Miami and questioned whether any of those supporting Bronson are really Democrats.

    "I wouldn't call them true Democrats," Nelson said. "They don't know my background."

    Nelson said he doesn't believe Florida voters have mistaken him for Bill Nelson because he's been campaigning for 10 months.

    A former biology teacher who is now a middle school librarian in Miami-Dade County, Nelson has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Florida Consumer Action Network and the Jewish Journal in Broward County. Although his campaign operated on a shoestring through the primary, Democratic activists are now supporting him.

    Still, Bronson has outspent Nelson by 100-to-1 and is running TV and radio ads to boost his name recognition, including a new ad attacking Nelson's qualifications for the job. He attributed the close race to a controversial citrus canker eradication program that has cut down thousands of trees in neighborhoods in South Florida.

    Joe Garcia, a Miami political consultant who is working with Nelson, said he thinks the "Tallahassee establishment" is scared of an independent citizen candidate like Nelson.

    -- Staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report.

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk