Ad attacking Davis called unfair

A mailer sent to South Florida voters criticizes the congressman for missing key votes. His rival won't denounce it.

Published August 9, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Two South Florida members of Congress demanded Tuesday that Democratic candidate for governor Rod Smith denounce a third-party ad blasting his opponent for missing a vote condemning Hezbollah's attacks on Israel.

Smith declined, saying Jim Davis' missed votes are fair game. His campaign said it had no knowledge of the mailer by a pro-Smith group financed by U.S. Sugar Corp.

The ad shows a bombing scene next to Davis' picture. It says Davis should explain why he was not in Washington on July 20, when Congress approved the resolution condemning Hezbollah. Davis said he missed the vote because he was meeting with a newspaper editorial board.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, defended Davis as a longtime friend of Israel and said if Smith "does not choose to condemn ... then he's tacitly supporting an organization spreading lies about his opponent."

U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, who like Wasserman Schultz is Jewish, issued a statement calling Davis a "staunch advocate" for Israel "and any mischaracterization of his record regarding this issue should be immediately repudiated and rejected."

Wasserman Schultz and Wexler have both previously endorsed Davis. They were joined Tuesday by a representative of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mike Joblove.

But Smith spokesman David Kochman said the mailing was fair game. "Congressman Davis has the second worst voting record in Congress, and I think it's fair game in this campaign that he missed so many votes. And in this case in particular, this campaign tried to make misleading excuses to cover it up."

Since he began exploring a run for governor more than a year ago, Davis has missed numerous votes in Washington, putting him near the bottom of all U.S. House members. He has said many missed votes were ceremonial- such as naming buildings - or that his vote would have not changed the outcome. The pro-Israel resolution passed 410-8, and three days earlier, Davis issued a statement condemning the violence.

The ad surfaced Monday in South Florida, an area rich with Jewish Democratic voters, and at a time when polls show Davis leading but more than half of Democratic voters are undecided. The mailing was paid for by a third-party organization called Florida's Working Families that is financed by U.S. Sugar Corp. Calls to a person listed on the group's IRS paperwork were not returned Monday or Tuesday.

The group gave $90,000 to a similar organization run by a friend of Smith's. That group, Floridians for Responsible Government, shut down after one of its donors was implicated in a prison vending kickback scheme.

The attack ad quotes an e-mail a Davis staffer accidentally sent to a Miami Herald reporter who asked about his whereabouts "Are you good with me telling her he was talking to people of Florida about issues like education and the hurricane insurance crisis? Or we could just tell her he had (editorial) board meetings. Just let me know," spokeswoman Danae Jones wrote.

Though some polls have showed the Democratic primary contest tightening, Wasserman Schultz decried the move as desperation, and a distraction from the real issues facing Florida. "Support for Israel itself does not have anything to do with the governor's race. And that's why you can see through this tactic."

Still, she acknowledged, negative campaigning can have an effect. "At some point, it's obvious that voters do respond to it."

Times staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to this report.