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Bush, homeowners star in CFO candidates' ads

By ALISA ULFERTS
Published August 18, 2006


Patty Cowherd admits she hasn't read up on the backgrounds of the two Republican candidates for chief financial officer. Even so, she's leaning heavily in the direction of Senate President Tom Lee, for one simple reason: Gov. Jeb Bush.

"I haven't done a lot of research, but I saw the governor on television endorsing him (Lee), and that's good enough for me," Cowherd said as she munched sushi Wednesday evening at the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce Political Mingle.

What's good enough for Cowherd is music to Lee of Valrico, who is banking heavily on the popular governor's ability to deliver Republican votes in his Sept. 5 primary battle against Rep. Randy Johnson of Celebration.

Bush dominates one of the two television ads Lee's camp launched on Monday. It opens with Bush telling viewers the state needs Tom Lee.

The second ad pictures Lee talking about his efforts to curb lobbyists' influence and beat back telephone company rate hikes. New challenges, including hurricanes and the insurance mess that followed, mean the state needs to continue with "Jeb Bush's brand of leadership," he says.

But Lee's camp is quick to note its candidate has much more to run on than being Bush's pick.

"Voters are being introduced to President Lee as a CFO candidate," said Lee spokeswoman Kathy Mears. "We also have another ad ... talking about his record and qualifications."

Where Lee is counting on the red-state Republican endorsement of officials like Bush and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, Johnson is counting on another color: blue, as in the blue tarpaulins that covered roofs all over the state after two hurricane seasons.

Johnson released his own TV ad Thursday. Three hurricanes hit his district in 2004, and he has put the homeowners insurance mess at the front of his campaign. Johnson's ad shows hurricane-damaged homes and grim-faced homeowners signing paperwork, presumably their latest insurance hike. It then asks if homeowners are being squeezed out of their houses by property taxes. (The CFO has nothing to do with property tax rates. But Johnson has said he would use his bully pulpit to get cities, counties and school boards to be more efficient so they could lower their rates.)

That Lee is running two ads to Johnson's one is a sign of their relative financial firepower. So far, Lee has raised almost $2.3-million, Johnson almost $1-million.

Johnson is trying to even the playing field with a Web site he e-mailed to supporters Thursday. The site, tomleeflipflips.com, uses a grainy, black-and-white photo of Lee - when he wore a mustache - to remind voters of positions he took in the past. Then current photo of Lee appears, along with text that Johnson's camp says proves Lee adopted a more politically expedient position in preparation for his statewide run.

Johnson spokeswoman Apryl Marie Fogel said the Web site has shown particular appeal to younger Republicans. "We've gotten a pretty positive response to it," Fogel said.

Lee's camp says the Web site goes in the wrong direction.

"We definitely believe the positive message - the truthful message - is what will resonate in this election," Mears said.

The winner faces Democratic candidate Alex Sink in November.

[Last modified August 18, 2006, 02:06:59]


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