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Election 2004

As defeat looms, Senate also-rans stick to message

They have little chance of winning, but seven candidates refuse to give up on being Florida's next U.S. senator.

By CARRIE JOHNSON and JONI JAMES
Published August 28, 2004

The crowded field of candidates vying to replace Bob Graham in the U.S. Senate will soon be winnowed to the final two, but it's already clear who won't be heading to Washington.

Betty Castor is leading the Democratic field, and Peter Deutsch is aggressively scrambling to catch up. Bill McCollum and Mel Martinez, meanwhile, are locked in a close fight for the Republican nomination.

That leaves five Republicans and two Democrats spending the next three days trying to make a decent showing but knowing victory is doubtful.

They range from powerful politicians and veteran campaigners to little-known newcomers. Here's a look at how some of the likely also-rans are spending the final days before Tuesday's primaries.

Money's not everything

Republican Doug Gallagher, a self-made millionaire from Coral Gables, concedes nothing.

He says he's convinced he can win, that the $6.3-million he plowed into a campaign won't be for naught. Polls show him a distant third, but Gallagher said he smells an upset.

"Won't that be a great story?" he said Friday.

Gallagher, 55, has avoided raising money, including taking nothing from political action committees. He said that gave him more time to meet rank-and-file voters, but it also left him without a major endorsement from the Republican establishment, including his older brother, Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

Using a racing metaphor, Gallagher told the Lee County Republican Executive Committee in Fort Myers Thursday night his strategy to beat McCollum and Martinez: "Let the two of them have a cat fight. I will be drafting them and I hope to slingshot around them at the very end and make it to the finish line."

A rising star dims

Grits and fried catfish were on the breakfast menu Friday at Atwater's in St. Petersburg, but it was Democrat Alex Penelas who drew a crowd.

The Miami-Dade County mayor gave a fiery 30-minute talk that got the audience cheering. The problem: Only about two dozen people were there.

Penelas' first statewide campaign didn't draw much attention, a surprising development for someone who just four years ago was one of the Democratic Party's rising stars.

"I think I can pull off an upset," Penelas said Friday. "We've got a lot of momentum going into a very critical weekend."

From the start, Penelas' party loyalty was questioned, most notably by Al Gore. In June, the former presidential nominee called Penelas the "single most treacherous and dishonest person I dealt with during the campaign anywhere in America" for his role in the 2000 election.

Penelas' biggest obstacle may have been his limited statewide name recognition and the money to boost it.

Penelas, 42, leaves office in January. He said he'll be fine if he loses Tuesday.

"I'm young, I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful children," he said. "I'll have more time to spend with them, I'll make a lot more money and I'll have a lot less stress."

One last stand

Larry Klayman's last stand as a U.S. Senate candidate was the result of a statistical fluke.

Klayman, founder of Judicial Watch, never gained much traction as he pushed for the invasion of Cuba, withdrawal from the United Nations and requiring that all federal judges oppose abortion.

But in the poll WEDU-TV used to decide who could participate in Friday's debate, Klayman got 2 percent. Combined with a 5 percent margin of error, that put him at the crucial 7 percent threshold.

Klayman raised more than $2.4-million, mostly from a nationwide network of conservatives, and spent nearly all of it.

"Those polls are just showing name recognition," Klayman said Friday night. "This (debate) will play twice and people will see. I'm hopeful."

Byrd never took off

Four months ago, Johnnie Byrd was one of the most powerful people in Florida as speaker of the state House.

That seems a distant memory. The Plant City lawyer, despite raising nearly $3-million and pushing an agenda of gun rights and opposition to abortion, never hit double digits in polls.

Many of the House members who endorsed him withdrew their support when the 2004 Legislature adjourned. And Byrd never hit the trail hard to win the kind of free publicity most candidates seek.

Today, Byrd is scheduled to spend the morning at an anti-abortion event in Broward County and then head to Orlando for the Florida Christian Coalition's annual dinner.

He had one last chance to appeal to voters during Friday night's televised debate.

Off the radar

Republican Sonya March of St. Petersburg is so far off voters' radar screen she doesn't register in polls.

Still, the St. Petersburg lawyer and former Air Force pilot isn't giving up, said Keith Long, her campaign spokesman. She is scheduled to campaign today with her sister in the Tampa Bay area and to attend a campaign event an an Orlando church Sunday.

"She's talking about issues," Long said. "The other two guys are just calling each other names."

March hopes for a last-minute boost from a 75,000-piece mailing to veterans and an appeal to Cuban-Americans to lift the U.S. embargo against Cuba, Long said.A realistic optimist

Democrat Bernard Klein is optimistic, but he said he's also a realist. So he pulled $20,000 in newspaper ads this weekend after polls showed him at 1 percent.

"I'm surprised," said Klein, a Hollywood real estate broker who is financing his campaign largely with his own money. "I thought I would be within 14 or 15 percent of the leader by now."

He said he plans to attend a meeting of the Democratic Women's Clubs of Brevard County Sunday, but said he isn't sure how that will help.

"At this point, I need to go places where I can get 10,000 votes," Klein said. "Not 200."

[Last modified August 28, 2004, 00:49:06]


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