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Joke about Crist's tan, you may get burned

By ADAM C. SMITH and JONI JAMES
Published July 30, 2006


The George Hamilton tan jokes have been part of most every Charlie Crist campaign, so we were hardly shocked to see the Florida Democratic Party's release last week mocking as superficial the Republican gubernatorial candidate's talk about fixing Florida's insurance system: "Charlie Crist's claims carry about as much weight as a late-night infomercial. Sure, he's slick, but perhaps the Super Tan Man should look into jobs hawking the latest weight loss miracle instead of running for governor," said Democratic spokesman Mark Bubriski.

Democrats might want to tread lightly on those tan attacks, because on a radio show with host Jim DeFede in South Florida Friday, Crist had his own biting response.

"I mean my goodness - because I happen to have Greek heritage and if I go out in the sun for a half-hour and it looks like I've been out there for four hours because I have a darker complexion than somebody - honestly Jim, I thought we were at the place in this country where the color of somebody's skin or the complexion that they have is not something that's an issue of political debate anymore," Crist said. "I've been fighting for civil rights for all of our people as attorney general, and for the Democratic Party to kind of poke fun of something like that was really beneath" them.

No Big Deal? Campaigning in Valrico Saturday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher brushed off questions about whether he might drop out of the race or that his campaign was seriously hurt by the Ethics Commission concluding Friday that he may have broken state ethics laws by buying stock of companies he regulated as insurance commissioner in 2002.

"The Republicans should have a choice on who their nominee is, and I think the issues are very important in this primary and in this election and I do believe that as people look where we stand on those issues, that we have an excellent chance to win this race," said Gallagher, stressing that the Ethics Commission dismissed most of the allegations against him and was not unanimous on those for which it ruled against him.

"It wasn't anything that was solidly found, but the majority rules so I will go along with whatever they say should be the punishment. ... I've already said if I had to do it over again I wouldn't do it," Gallagher said, noting that the commission concluded he hadn't misused his office to benefit himself or any companies.

UNDECIDED DEMOCRATS: While polls released last week suggested Crist is running away with his primary race against Gallagher, the Democratic primary looks murkier. Polls by Mason-Dixon Polling Research and Quinnipiac University both showed Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa well ahead of state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua - 29 percent to 14 percent in the Mason-Dixon poll and 47 percent to 19 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. But anywhere from 33 percent (Quinnipiac) to 57 percent (Mason-Dixon) are undecided.

HARRIS ALTERNATIVES: Check out on Political Connections today on Bay News 9 a couple of the Republican Senate candidates trying to wrest the nomination away from front-runner Katherine Harris. Former federal banking and housing official Peter Monroe of Safety Harbor and lawyer Will McBride of Orlando appear on the show at 11 a.m., and the interview can be seen starting Monday on Channel 340 (Tampa Bay on Demand).

We were a bit surprised when McBride said in the interview he supports reconsidering the embargo on Cuba, but he later explained he misunderstood the question and supports maintaining the embargo. So do Monroe and Harris, though Republican candidate LeRoy Collins Jr. (who was unable to attend) is receptive to re-examining policy on Cuba.

MACK ON STEM CELLS: Also on Political Connections today is former Republican Sen. Connie Mack (who endorsed Crist for governor but declined to endorse Harris or anyone else in that primary). The "prolife" Catholic and board member at Tampa's H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute weighed in on the president's opposition to federal funding for stem cell research:

"I've spent a good 20-plus years engaged in medical research, funding for medical research. I think stem cell research is an important area of research," said Mack. "I can't fault people who have a very strong religious/moral perspective that says it's fundamentally wrong to destroy an embryo. ... (But) to disallow the use of an embryo that you know is going to end up being destroyed, that could be used for research that could in fact enhance and protect and extend somebody's life, that's a very tough question."

TIED RACES? In the state Cabinet races for chief financial officer and attorney general, last week's Mason-Dixon poll showed both statistically tied. GOP attorney general candidate Bill McCollum drew 38 percent to Democrat Walter "Skip" Campbell's 33 percent.

In the CFO race, Mason-Dixon had Republican Senate President Tom Lee with 32 percent, Democratic retired banking executive Alex Sink at 31 and undecided at 37. Against Republican Randy Johnson, it's Sink 35, Johnson 29 and undecided 36. In the GOP primary: Lee 21, Johnson 11, Milt Baugess 1, undecided 67.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Chris Ingram, former communications director for Katherine Harris' Senate campaign, joined the team of one of her opponents. Ingram is the new campaign manager for LeRoy Collins Jr.'s campaign for Senate.

"Adm. Collins has the leadership abilities, integrity, and common-sense values Florida voters need for effective representation in Washington. Gov. Bush was right when he said, (Katherine Harris) can't win. At 30 points down in the polls, it is safe to say a vote for her in the primary is as good as a vote for Bill Nelson. LeRoy Collins has the experience and determination to give Republicans their best shot at defeating Nelson this fall," Ingram said.

Adam C. Smith and Joni James contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more political news check out The Buzz online at http://blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.