tampabay.com

Absent Harris takes hits at Senate forum

By ANITA KUMAR
Published August 16, 2006


TAMPA - U.S. Senate candidates LeRoy Collins and Peter Monroe were cordial to each other at a candidate's forum Tuesday night, as they took jabs at their main Republican rival who was not there.

Front-runner Katherine Harris, who had previously committed to attending, canceled at the last minute. The fourth candidate, Will McBride, also did not appear.

Collins, a retired Navy admiral from Tampa, told the crowd of several hundred that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was right when he said Harris could not beat the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

"I'm in this race because I can win," he said. "I want you to know I'm in this race to stay."

Monroe, a developer from Safety Harbor, criticized Harris and Nelson for accepting campaign contributions from trial lawyers.

For the most part, Collins and Monroe agreed on the major issues they were asked about in the 30-minute debate, sponsored by the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee.

The two got along so well that afterward Monroe told Hillsborough party chairman David Storck how much he respected Collins and that he would vote for him if Collins was the primary winner.

The four candidates are vying for the Republican nomination Sept. 5. The winner will face Nelson in November.

Collins and Monroe received the most applause for their similar stance on immigration reform, now being debated in Congress. Both said they preferred a much stronger bill on illegal immigrants than the one passed by the Senate and partly written by Florida's Republican senator, Mel Martinez.

"I favor a tougher plan. Those here illegally must go home," Collins said. "It's been five years since 9/11, and we still don't have this done."

Monroe agreed and used the opportunity to say that McBride, a lawyer whose practice deals with immigration cases among others, is soft on illegal immigrants. He even passed around a widely circulated photo that showed McBride at a rally with immigrants that Monroe described as illegal. McBride has previously dismissed the photo, saying he has tried to help immigrants in the United States through his law practice and by teaching English.

Collins and Monroe were somewhat similar on issues of stem cell research, health care and homeowners insurance, and tried to distinguish themselves on experience.

Collins stressed his Navy background and that he wants to help make the United States safer in what he calls the "most dangerous time in my life."

Monroe, who worked for the Housing and Urban Development Department, emphasized his experience working with the federal government and working "both sides of the aisle."

"This has been a goal all my life from my father and the spirit of the '60s," he said.

Anita Kumar can be reached at akumar@sptimes.com or 202 463-0576.