By STEVE BOUSQUET and ANITA KUMAR
Published October 31, 2004
KISSIMMEE - U.S. Senate opponents Betty Castor and Mel Martinez worked the state's political center Saturday, rallying supporters across the Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa to Daytona Beach.
Democrat Castor stumped with vice presidential candidate John Edwards in Daytona Beach and got support from two presidential daughters, Chelsea Clinton and Caroline Kennedy.
Republican Martinez boarded the same "American Dream Tour" bus that carried him to a nomination victory in August, and concluded the day at a nighttime rally in Orlando with President Bush.
Castor spoke at a Pioneer Day Festival in Lake Wales, visited a barbecue restaurant in Auburndale and met early voters in Bartow. She spoke about expanding health care, creating jobs and improving education and national defense.
"We have three more days, and believe you me, I'm not going to rest one minute and I hope you won't, either," Castor said, posing for pictures and signing autographs in Kissimmee.
Castor attended a cookout near an early-voting site in Kissimmee with Clinton, Kennedy, Karenna Gore, Vanessa Kerry and Cate Edwards. They urged a mostly Hispanic crowd of 100 to vote in what they called the most important election of their lifetime.
"Will she not make a great senator?" Edwards asked a cheering crowd.
Florida's Democratic U.S senators, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson, also joined Castor at various stops.
Bernie Biagiano, 65, a Democrat eating at Peebles Bar-B-Q in Auburndale, said he voted for Castor because she wants to increase the minimum wage.
"It will help people that really need it," Biagiano said.
The I-4 corridor is seen as key to both the Senate and presidential elections. President Bush and Democrat John Kerry will both campaign in Tampa today.
For the most part, Martinez and Castor accentuated the positive after weeks of charges and counter charges. But some attacks surfaced. Castor suggested Martinez violated elections laws by working with an independent group running ads linking her to Osama bin Laden. Martinez denied the allegations and accused Castor of doing the same thing with the group EMILY's List.
In Kissimmee, an upbeat Martinez grabbed a microphone and sang the Cuban ballad Guantanamera with a three-piece band at a barbecue in a park.
Swaying to the music, Martinez charmed a crowd of 100, including many Puerto Ricans who spoke proudly of the prospect of a Hispanic senator from their adopted state. Jose Santiago, 65, waved a hand-lettered sign at a nearby median strip that said Martinez ""es uno de los nuestros" (one of ours).
"He is going to look after the best interests of the nation in a way in which Latinos are not left behind," Santiago said.