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    GOP hopeful charts a moderate course

    U.S. Rep. Mark Foley hopes to win over conservatives and moderates alike in his bid to replace Sen. Bob Graham.

    By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 15, 2003


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Two Mark Foleys are campaigning to replace Bob Graham in the U.S. Senate.

    One is the Republican primary candidate hitting GOP functions and blasting Democrats for holding up the president's conservative judicial nominations. He calls for America to withdraw from the United Nations and touts his strong ratings from the National Rifle Association.

    The other Foley, the one who spoke to the bipartisan Suncoast Tiger Bay Club Friday, is the general election candidate. Rather than red-meat Republican themes, he talks about fighting mental illness, getting Medicare to better cover preventive health care and bipartisanship.

    "Our health system is in crisis, and we are coming up with sound-bite solutions to solve problems that are much more complex," he said, suggesting that excessive jury awards are only part of the problem facing doctors and hospitals.

    "I'm always looking for, 'Can we stop the yelling for five minutes and focus on results?' " he said.

    The two Foleys don't necessarily contradict each other; they merely emphasize different messages for different audiences.

    But they highlight one of the challenges the four-term congressman from West Palm Beach faces in his first statewide campaign. Foley is widely viewed as a moderate Republican but must survive a Republican primary typically dominated by conservative voters. He faces at least one primary opponent, Bill McCollum, whose conservative credentials are unquestioned.

    Still largely unknown across the state, Foley, 48, is winning over plenty of Tampa Bay Republicans who think he has broader appeal than McCollum, who lost to Democrat Bill Nelson in the 2000 Senate race.

    Some of his issues, though, could be trouble among conservative voters.

    He supports banning controversial partial birth abortion procedures, an issue that on Friday drew pointed questions from abortion rights supporters. But Foley is the only Republican in Florida's delegation that Planned Parenthood pegs as having a mixed abortion record, rather than consistently supporting abortion restrictions.

    Through 2002, the American Conservative Union gave him a lifetime score of 81, lower than all but two of Florida's congressional Republicans. He lost points because of stances such as supporting campaign finance reform and opposing reducing money for the National Endowment for the Arts.

    On Friday, Foley staunchly defended President Bush's handling of Iraq and the war on terrorism, as well as his plan to cut the tax on corporate dividends. But he indirectly questioned the president's efforts to reform Medicare by relying on private managed care to improve access to prescription drugs.

    "I'm the last person you'll find encouraging more HMOs. I say HMOS stand for Healthy Members Only," Foley said.

    With Graham expected to run for president, Republicans could be well-positioned to pick up another Senate seat. Some party activists, however, worry that neither Foley nor McCollum is a strong enough candidate. The White House is reportedly pushing U.S. Housing Secretary and former Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez to run.

    Democrats looking at the Senate seat include U.S. Reps. Allen Boyd of Monticello, Peter Deutsch of Fort Lauderdale and Alcee Hastings of Miramar; state Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell of Tamarac; and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.

    -- Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or adam@sptimes.com .

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