Different paces, same intention

Davis hits just a handful of campaign stops; Smith takes a different tack.

Published September 2, 2006

ORLANDO - Just days before their showdown in the Democratic primary for governor, Jim Davis and Rod Smith on Friday kicked off tours that will put them on a dizzying course across Florida and back again.

But each set dramatically different paces - just as they have throughout the race. It was the tortoise and the hare, though the end of this saga has yet to be written.

Davis, whose first event in Tampa was scrambled by heavy rain, hit only a handful of stops, talking to small groups about transportation and economic policy.

Smith, by contrast, went everywhere from a senior center to high school football games in Jacksonville, where he downed a deep-fried Oreo to the delight of cheerleaders.

In all, Smith talked to more than a half-dozen large groups, as big as 50 people, and tackled controversial issues. He hammered Davis for not apologizing for his 1990 vote against compensating Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two black men wrongfully convicted for killing two white service station attendants. And he forcefully denied being a pawn of the sugar industry, which has pumped an estimated $4-million into attacking Davis.

"Let me just get this straight: Nobody owns me, nobody rents me, and nobody's got that much money," Smith said. "We are not backing up on the Everglades. We are going to clean the Everglades, and we are going to stay on this federal consent order, and we are going to meet these guidelines."

Smith started the day not long after 7 a.m. in Pensacola, stopping in Panama City, and Gainesville for early voting with his family. In Jacksonville, he attended three high school football games. The tour ended in Orlando about 10 p.m.

Davis' day got off to a soggy start. His flight from Tallahassee on Friday morning was diverted to Lakeland due to torrential rain, causing him to miss an appearance at Alexander Elementary School in Tampa, his hometown.

Davis picked up the tour in Orlando and brought along a well-known friend, former Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham. The men appeared at Geotechnical and Environmental Consultants Inc. and led a handful of local officials in a detailed discussion on transportation planning. It was pure Davis (and, for that matter, Graham), thick on detail and broad in scope.

As if on cue, the traffic on State Road 50 leaving Orlando was bumper to bumper, and Davis arrived an hour late at his next event in Titusville.

Davis used this stop to directly address the U.S. Sugar Corp.'s role in the campaign, calling it a Republican company that is trying to buy the Democratic race for governor.

Davis then traveled to Vero Beach, where he visited a home that had been converted into a call center. Two dozen volunteers urged voters to turn out on election day.

Graham said the controversy of recent days has sucked the oxygen from the real issues of the day - education, health care and property insurance. But he acknowledged the political reality, framing the final days this way:

"This Tuesday is going to be a big test for this state," Graham said. "It's going to be a test of whether Florida belongs to the people or whether Florida belongs to a few very wealthy interests. ... On to victory Tuesday."