tampabay.com

Gallagher: I'm still in the governor's race

Flagging in the polls and fundraising, he vows to keep battling Crist "for the soul" of the GOP. But two key advisers quit.

By JONI JAMES
Published August 11, 2006


ORLANDO - Attempting to quell speculation that he will drop his bid to become Florida's governor, Republican Tom Gallagher surrounded himself with more than two dozen supporters here Thursday, proclaiming he still plans to best primary opponent Charlie Crist.

"We're down to 25 days," Gallagher said. "The polls don't mean anything except one poll on Sept. 5, and that's the one we're looking forward to, that's the one we're working toward."

Gallagher, dogged for two weeks by rumors he would drop out due to lagging poll numbers and recent lackluster fundraising, said he would spend the remaining time before the primary highlighting the differences he has with Crist on taxes, immigration, insurance and social matters such as civil unions and abortion.

He called his quest, now considered a long shot, "a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. ... I want our party to remain conservative in every sense of the word."

Crist challenged some of Gallagher's characterizations of his positions on issues, but said he was glad his opponent would remain in the race. "People deserve a choice," Crist said while campaigning in Jacksonville.

Thursday's event, held at a legislative conference hosted by incoming Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, sought to project renewed resolve and included more than two dozen state Republican legislators and socially conservative leaders crowded around Gallagher in support.

But moments before Gallagher's remarks, the campaign acknowledged it had lost two of its key advisers in the previous 48 hours, apparently over a disagreement about whether Gallagher should stay in the race.

For weeks, some Republican insiders have sought to have Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, step aside to allow Crist, Florida's attorney general, to stockpile money for the general election. The winner of the GOP primary will face either U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, or state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua, in November.

"They had something in their mind that was different than what was in Tom's heart," Gallagher's campaign spokesman Alberto Martinez said of the resignations of strategist David Johnson, a former state party executive director, and finance director David Browning.

Neither man could be reached for comment, but in his resignation letter, Johnson wrote, "As we have differences regarding the path and strategy of your campaign, it has become clear that the only remedy is for me to tender my resignation."

Gallagher called the partings "very amicable. ... I appreciate all they've done."

Gallagher also signaled there would be no change in his campaign strategy, which has sought to cast the former state insurance commissioner and Miami legislator as the only conservative voice in the race.

Gallagher challenged Crist's support of a U.S. Senate bill that would provide a mechanism for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship. Gallagher equated it to amnesty and said he would push to secure Florida's borders as well as pass a law that would allow local law enforcement to detain illegal immigrants.

Crist countered that America should provide undocumented workers with "the right to earn citizenship."

Gallagher also equated Crist's comments last month on a Miami radio station that gay civil unions were "fine" with comments by national Democratic chairman Howard Dean that one of his proudest moments as Vermont's governor was signing a law recognizing such unions.

Crist objected, claiming his stance on civil unions was aligned with President Bush's. He has said he supports reserving marriage for a man and a woman.