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Smith, Davis trade barbs for TV

By JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writer
Published August 22, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - The Democratic race for governor got a bit nastier Monday, as the front-runners took stabs at the other's voting records and special interest money during a taping of Political Connections, a weekly show from Bay News 9 and the St. Petersburg Times.

The episode will air Sunday at 11 a.m.

Each accused the other of earning low scores from various interest groups.

Smith dismissed a Davis attack on his low environmental rating by saying: "I've never been rated 419th in anything, and that's what rated him in terms of his overall effectiveness."

Davis said the rating was done by lobbyists.

"I'm not a favorite among the lobbyists in Washington, as a matter of fact, I'm a nightmare for the lobbyist in Tallahassee, so I'm actually proud of that rating," Davis said.

Smith shot back with a Woody Allen line, "90 percent of life is showing up," pointing out that Davis has the second-worst voting record in Washington.

Davis said his voting record was 93 percent before he started to run for governor.

Both were asked to define what a special interest group is, since both say they were not beholden to such groups, and both have received large amounts of money from industry groups.

Davis called a special interest group somebody who had disproportionate influence, even if it was the National Education Association. He pointed to the sugar industry, which has poured money into political committees that support Smith.

Smith used the opportunity to attack Davis for benefiting from $400,000 in donations from banks and finance companies after voting for the 2005 bill that rewrote bankruptcy law, making it more difficult for debtors to clear debts.

On health care, both said they did not believe a government can mandate that businesses such as Wal-Mart provide health care coverage for low-wage workers.

They also attacked each other's insurance plans, Davis harping on the "loophole" created by the Legislature when it allowed insurance companies to escape responsibility for flood damage. Smith stuck to his response that Davis' plan to force private companies to insure floods would raise rates.

When asked how a Democrat could beat a moderate Republican like Charlie Crist in the general election, should Crist win the Republican primary as polls suggest, both Davis and Smith indicated they would highlight what they called Crist's flip-flops on issues.

Davis called Crist not strong on issues in general. And Smith said he would compare his own experience fighting crime as a prosecutor in response to Crist's tough-on-crime campaign.

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