Toughest Democrat to beat? A Republican says Smith

Published August 13, 2006

Republican U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite of Brooksville has served with both Democrats running for governor, state Sen. Rod Smith and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. Having seen them in action up close, which one does she see as the toughest Democrat to beat in the governor's race?

"I would say Rod Smith. He is a brilliant attorney, thinks quickly on his feet, and I have a very healthy respect for Rod Smith," Brown-Waite - an early backer of Charlie Crist's - said in a Political Connections interview airing at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9. Off camera, she said she often sought help from Smith, "the most brilliant man in the Florida Senate," and personally likes both Smith and Davis. But "intellectually, Rod Smith has it all over (Davis)."

Asked how she likes the prospect of Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris at the top of the ticket, Brown-Waite paused a couple seconds. "She still has a primary to go through, and I think we'll have to wait and see if she survives that."

The interview airs today at 11 a.m. and starting Monday can be seen at no cost on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on Demand).

RUMBLE AT RIVERVIEW: Also on Bay News 9 today at 11:30, check out the debate between candidates vying to succeed Tom Lee in state Senate District 10: Democrat Stephen Gorham and Republicans Sandra Murman and Ray Young. Hillsborough Commissioner Ronda Storms, who is also running for the Republican nomination in that race, did not attend the debate.

SENATE RACE RADIO AD: U.S. Senate candidate LeRoy Collins Jr. will begin airing 60-second radio ads statewide for a week starting Monday.

The ad, set to the song The Danger Zone from the movie Top Gun, takes a jab at front-runner Katherine Harris and says that Collins' experience as a Navy admiral gives him the knowledge to deal with issues such as terrorism, immigration reform and taxpayer relief.

"Gov. Bush was right when he said that Katherine Harris can't win," a woman says in the ad. "All the polls show she can't beat the Democratic opponent. So why waste a good Republican vote on her?"

An audio version of the ad may be heard on the Internet by accessing the campaign Web site www. LeRoyCollins.com.

GOSSIPY JEB: If you want to keep your love life under wraps, you might not want to let Florida's governor know about your latest beau. That's what Alia Faraj, Gov. Jeb Bush's communications director, found out Friday when her boss outed her new relationship to a gaggle of Tampa Bay reporters.

Bush had just finished up an appearance at Tampa General Hospital Friday morning when a lingering reporter from WFLA asked the final zinger question: Was it true Alia Faraj might marry before Bush's second and final term ends?

Bush apparently relished the moment, calling back reporters and television camera crews that had ambled off. He waited for the cameras to turn back on, then he announced: Alia has a boyfriend. Faraj, reached by Buzz in Tallahassee, was understandably mortified but good-humored.

CRIST'S FCAT PROBLEM: The Democratic Party is flogging Charlie Crist for calling himself a "visionary" while muffing some basic facts about FCAT in an interview with the Palm Beach Post editorial board. The Post reported last week that Crist said it might be a good idea to give the FCAT test at a different time, but he didn't know when students take it now (February or March) or what constitutes a passing score (a 3 or 3.5).

"Earth to Crist," the Dems' e-mail blast said. "Lack of basic state knowledge doesn't make you a visionary."

POLL POSITION: Rod Smith allies didn't much like the new St. Petersburg Times poll released Saturday showing Jim Davis leading 35 percent to 21 percent among Democratic voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent. They prefer another Aug. 3-7 poll for the business group Associated Industries Florida. Using computer-assisted telephoning, that poll shows Democrats evenly split, with 21 percent for Smith, 20 percent for Davis and 59 percent undecided.

And an Aug. 9-11 poll of 600 likely Democratic voters by the Orlando firm the Kitchens Group showed a statistical tie. With a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent, Davis had 31 percent support, Smith got 27 percent, and 42 percent were undecided.

AN OPINIONATED OPINION POLL: On Tuesday night, June Welch, 69, of Treasure Island, a registered Democrat, agreed to take part in a poll. She said it seemed fair enough until she got to the end when she told the pollster she would be supporting Jim Davis, not Rod Smith.

Then she was asked if she'd be more likely or less likely to vote for Davis if she knew:

That Davis missed more votes in Congress than any other representative; that he didn't vote to condemn the attacks on Israel; that he tried to keep cheaper drugs from Canada and Europe out of Florida; or that he was somehow involved in the Terri Schiavo predicament.

"He must have thought I was really stupid not to detect that he must be for the Smith camp," said Welch, who, by the way, is supporting Republican Charlie Crist in the general election.

The Smith campaign wouldn't comment on whether that was its poll, but said that all campaigns, including Republicans, test positive and negative messages on candidates, including their own.

PRIVATIZED FLORIDA: It's rare to hear anyone who works for Jeb Bush - whether on staff or on contract - argue against privatization. It's especially rare when it's the governor's own lawyer.

But when it comes to voter registration, it turns out only the state gets it right: Pete Antonacci, who's defending the state in an elections lawsuit, told a federal judge recently that by allowing third-party organizations, like the League of Women Voters, to collect and submit voter registration applications, the state had "privatized" a "quintessential government service."

Antonacci's argument was so out of character for the state that even U.S. District Judge Patricia A. Seitz found it difficult to exercise judicial restraint on her sense of humor. "Isn't that (privatization) a good thing in our recent administration?" Seitz asked.

Adam C. Smith, Anita Kumar, Jennifer Liberto and Alisa Ulferts contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more political news check out the Buzz online at www.sptimes.com/blogs/buzz.