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Who's the true conservative? It's Crist, of course, flier says

By Times Staff
Published June 25, 2006


Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher likes to cast himself as the true social conservative in the race for the GOP nomination against Charlie Crist. But a semimysterious group called the Conservative Values Coalition wants Republican primary voters to know Crist is their man.

"Charlie Crist. Preserving Governor Bush's Conservative Legacy," reads the flier hitting Republican households across the state. The slick brochure features pictures of Crist praying, side by side with Gov. Jeb Bush, chatting with Pinellas County sheriff's deputies, and walking with a minister (senior pastor Clark Edwards of St. Petersburg's First United Methodist Church).

State and federal records show the group was created in mid May by Charles W. Hays, a newcomer to Florida politics who listed a Tallahassee address. Records don't show who is helping fund the group, and the Crist campaign said it had nothing to do with it and did not provide the photos. The flier touts Crist's efforts to fight same-sex marriage (a topic Gallagher has been much more vocal on) and supporting "judges who don't legislate from the bench."

Gallagher campaign spokesman Albert Martinez was dubious that the Crist campaign had nothing to do with the group, a so-called 527 organization, named after the section of the IRS code under which it operates.

"Charlie Crist's shameless attempt to buy credibility among conservatives through a 527 won't erase his pro-choice voting record, his lack of leadership on tort reform or his flip-flops on gambling and gay marriage."

MEL'S HELP: Meanwhile the Crist campaign today rolls out the first Spanish language TV ad, featuring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez: "I am Mel Martinez.?I arrived in the United States as a child, and through my struggles and faith in God I found the way to the American Dream.?My friend Charlie Crist is a fighter and with his faith in God we share these ideals," Martinez says in Spanish of Crist, who endorsed him early in his 2004 Senate primary.

A second Crist ad out touts his conservative record on issues ranging from cutting taxes to supporting parental consent for abortions.

HANDICAPPING HARRIS: At a Leadership Florida candidate forum Saturday, Gallagher and Crist were asked whether they agreed with Jeb Bush's assessment earlier this year that Katherine Harris can't win the U.S. Senate race against Bill Nelson.

The ever-diplomatic Crist: "I don't agree. I think she can win."

Gallagher: "I think she's got a pretty good chance in the primary," drawing big laughs. "We'll see who wins that and then we'll talk about the general" election.

CHAIR VS. CHAIR: Check out State Republican Chairwoman Carol Jean Jordan and state Democratic Chairwoman Karen Thurman on Political Connections at 11 a.m. today. They talk about their party's prospects and message heading into the busiest election cycles Florida's faced in years.

EVERYBODY'S A CRITIC: We haven't seen any gubernatorial candidate spend more time on the campaign trail with family members this year than Democratic state Sen. Rod Smith. The other day, we caught Smith thanking and bidding goodbye to his sons after a broadcasters association forum in Orlando.

"Love you," Smith said. "Did I do okay?"

"You did fine," responded Dylan Smith, a University of Florida student.

We couldn't resist asking how he thought Smith might have done better. He suggested Smith needed to heed the advice of his campaign advisers.

"Smile more?'" Smith asked, as if he's used to that advice.

"No," Dylan responded. "I was going to say wait till you're done with your point, then change gears."

Smith agreed. The harsh assessments of his performances from his sons are nothing new on those long drives on the campaign trail.

"You kidding me? They're the worst audience I have," Smith said.

TV DEBATES: Public broadcaster Ray Suarez will host two televised debates among the candidates for governor. The debates, in late August, will be broadcast live from the Tampa studios of WEDU, with a panel of journalists from Florida newspapers and public broadcasting stations asking the questions.

Republicans Crist and Gallagher will face off Aug. 22, at 8 p.m. Democrats Jim Davis and Smith will take the stage Aug. 23. A post-primary debate is scheduled for Oct. 24. Candidates for U.S. Senate will appear Oct. 23.

KISSIMMEE SUIT DROPPED: Noting a "tremendous increase" in Hispanic voter registration, a group of Kissimmee activists Thursday dropped a federal lawsuit against the city.

The suit alleged that the at-large elections system hindered Hispanic candidates. But Mi Familia Vota, a national Hispanic group, led a campaign that resulted in the addition of thousands of new voters. "Given that now Hispanics make up a plurality of Kissimmee voters, the remedy no longer lies in the hands of the law, but is now in the hands of the voters," said lawyer Darren Soto.

PBA BACKS BRONSON: Republican Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who is running for re-election, picked up the endorsement of the Florida Police Benevolent Association this weekend.

"Commissioner Bronson's support for law enforcement officers and public safety began years ago while he was a Florida senator," said PBA's executive director David Murrell.

The announcement in the little-watched race prompted Buzz to do a quick check. Bronson raised $180,000 through the first quarter this year while his Democratic opponent, Eric Copeland of Coral Gables, raised $107,000 in the same period (though more than $75,000 appears to be the candidate's loans to himself). And both candidates sport swanky Web sites: www.charlesbronson.org and www.copeland2006.com

DUELING ENDORSEMENTS: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Smith last week announced he received the endorsement of the Communications Workers of America, representing 17,000 Floridians in the communications, manufacturing, media, government, education and travel industries.

"Rod Smith is the leader with the vision and effectiveness to fight for real change in Florida," said Don LaRotunda, CWA Florida Political Director. "Rod Smith has always fought for Florida's communication workers as a labor lawyer and as an elected official. Now we will fight to make him our next governor."

Democratic rival Davis, meanwhile, touted the nod of People's Choice of Palm Beach County, which includes some prominent local Democratic club presidents and Democratic activists. County commissioner and political action committee member Burt Aaronson will serve as Davis' campaign chairman in the Democratic primary battleground where Smith grew up.

"I like both Democratic candidates, but I am tired of losing," said chairman Jay Weitz. "Our members wanted to go with a winner, and that's why we're going with Jim Davis.

He's got the experience, the values and the vision that it takes to beat the Republicans in November and get Florida moving in the right direction."

Adam C. Smith and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. For more political news check out www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz.