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Davis urged to choose a black running mate

Backers say it could help repair a campaign weakness: a poor standing with African-Americans in South Florida.

Published September 8, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Supporters of Jim Davis say the Democratic nominee for governor should choose an African-American running mate from South Florida to shore up his weak standing with black voters in the state's most populous region.

Two of the most talked-about names to join the ticket as Davis' lieutenant governor are former state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami, a high-ranking Air Force reservist who ran for governor in 2002, and state Rep. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the outgoing House minority leader.

Jones said Thursday that he wouldn't rule it out, while Smith aggressively campaigned for the job.

Jones said he received eight or nine phone calls and e-mails from people about the position, and also was called by the Davis campaign on Thursday afternoon. He was reluctant to discuss the call but said he would not dismiss an offer out of hand.

"I have far too much respect for Jim Davis, for the process and for the state of Florida to totally dismiss anything like that," said Jones, who had endorsed Davis' primary rival, Rod Smith.

A former fighter pilot, Jones, 51, was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be Air Force secretary but failed to win confirmation in the Senate amid a series of allegations about his record and whether he gave truthful responses. Jones has a long history in the Legislature, including a decade as a senator from south Miami-Dade County.

Smith, 36, a lawyer, represents a predominantly black district in Fort Lauderdale, and he was neutral in the Davis-Smith primary. In his first House race in 1998, Smith endorsed Republican Jeb Bush for governor, a decision he later withdrew and said he regretted.

Smith said that experience makes him a better statewide candidate because he has seen Bush up close.

"What you don't want is the black vote not coming out to vote," Smith said. "There's no Bush on the ticket, so there's not a person for us to come out and vote against."

Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, a Davis supporter, said the state's growing diversity demands that Davis choose a running mate who is black, Hispanic or female or some combination of those. "Two middle-aged white guys running on a ticket in Florida is just not current," Richardson said.

Republican nominee Charlie Crist came roaring out of Tuesday's primary with 64 percent of the GOP vote, swamping rival Tom Gallagher in every region of the state.

Davis, by contrast, lost to rival Rod Smith in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. Even though Davis beat Smith in Broward, he lost all but two of the county's predominantly black precincts, according to an analysis by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The results are a strong signal to some Democrats that Davis has not inspired most black voters. Some Democrats say that is the result of Davis' 1990 vote to deny compensation to Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, two black men wrongly convicted of murder - an issue Smith's supporters pounded repeatedly in mailers, radio ads and recorded calls from the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"It's an issue that hits home with African-American voters," said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, a Rod Smith supporter who said about a third of his constituents are African-Americans. "But I don't think it's anything he can't overcome."

The deadline for choosing a running mate is Thursday.

Crist is narrowing his options, and supporters say they have been invited to his announcement Wednesday.

Among those said to be under consideration by Crist are Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral; Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey; and Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Green Cove Springs, an African-American with a military background.

"I would rather not discuss individual names, but I think an awful lot of her," Crist said of Carroll. "She is a fine public servant in my humble opinion."

[Last modified September 8, 2006, 07:07:31]

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