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Election 2004

Martinez harps on Castor's war comments

The Democratic Senate candidate responds that Martinez's comments are "right out of the Republican playbook."

Published October 20, 2004

[Times photo: Willie Allen Jr.]
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ST. PETERSBURG - Fresh from the first U.S. Senate debate, Republican Mel Martinez turned up his criticism of Democrat Betty Castor on Tuesday, saying if she had her way Saddam Hussein "would still be butchering the people of Iraq."

Martinez seized on Castor's comments Monday night that she would not have voted for the war in Iraq if she knew Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

"If Betty Castor had had her way, Saddam Hussein would still be butchering the people of Iraq and enslaving his own people and creating problems in the Middle East," Martinez told thousands of supporters waiting to hear President Bush.

Martinez's remarks were part of a broader attack on Castor that included a flurry of statements accusing her of changing her position on the war, threatening to raise taxes and making false statements about Sami Al-Arian, a former University of South Florida professor accused of terrorism.

Castor, who was in Broward County speaking about prescription drugs and Social Security, called Martinez's comments "right out of the Republican playbook."

"He's just out in left field," Castor said. "I have said from Day 1 that I would have voted for the resolution had I been in Congress. With what we know now, frankly, that might not have been passed by the Congress. It wouldn't have been passed by the Congress."

Polls show Castor, the former state education commissioner, and Martinez, the former federal housing secretary, are deadlocked two weeks before the Nov. 2 election.

Both candidates released documents showing they each raised about $2.5-million in the six weeks ending Sept. 30, significantly less than they expected. Both had about $350,000 on hand.

But Martinez raised another $2.2-million in the two weeks between Oct. 1 and Oct. 13, when he campaigned with Vice President Dick Cheney and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Mel has been successful in raising the funds to remain competitive while at the same time managing to travel the state and meet voters at multiple campaign events per day," Martinez spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe said.

Castor's campaign, which did not release comparable figures for October, said hurricanes and the Republican money machine forced her to spend more time fundraising than she planned.

"She worked hard," Castor spokesman Dan McLaughlin said. "It's paid off."

Castor and Martinez each raised about $5-million during their primaries. They had hoped to raise at least $8-million for the general election.

The money reported Friday is in addition to millions of dollars the national political parties and independent political groups are spending.

On Tuesday, Martinez alternated between criticizing Castor on the war and taxes and furiously raising money at private fundraisers with two members of Bush's Cabinet.

The money will fuel a last-minute barrage of TV ads.

A new TV ad, paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, began airing Tuesday, calling Castor a "disaster for Florida's economy." The ad will run statewide for at least a week.

Martinez said he supports President Bush's tax cuts, and said they helped create 1.5-million new jobs. Castor said she opposes the Bush tax cuts and favors tax relief for the middle class.

Castor would favor raising taxes if elected, Martinez charged, and eliminating a tax cut is a tax increase. "She said she would raise taxes on the rich as she defines it," he said.

Castor said during the debate that she didn't know what Martinez was talking about because she had "no tax proposal out there."

She met with about 50 retirees at a Jewish community center in Pembroke Pines, where she highlighted her prescription drug proposal and questioned Martinez's interest in allowing the privatization of Social Security for younger workers.

"Sure, let's benefit Wall Street at the expense of our seniors - at the expense of the security that has served this country so well," she said. "We can't let this administration and my opponent get away with that."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified October 20, 2004, 00:16:16]

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