tampabay.com

Democrats kick off hunt for November

The party's candidates emerge from their primaries with a message of unity.

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published September 9, 2006


TAMPA - The lull after the primary lasted about three days before state Democrats cranked up the campaign again Friday, choosing the century-old Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City as their launching point.

It seemed as if the party couldn't wait to tout its ticket for governor, chief financial officer and senator at the statewide unity event that signaled the start of the fall campaign.

About 200 party loyalists gathered in a ballroom beneath a banner that read "DEMOCRATS. Putting Floridians First. Because Security Begins at Home."

Before things got under way, a few red, white and blue balloons got loose, and the theme music from Star Wars came on too soon.

But it wasn't long before the party's stars arrived: Rep. Jim Davis, the gubernatorial nominee; chief financial officer candidate Alex Sink; and Sen. Bill Nelson, seeking re-election.

Nelson's daughter, Nan Ellen Nelson, 29, sang God Bless America before a cast of Democrats preached a message of unity.

Davis' primary opponent, Rod Smith, was on vacation in North Carolina. But Smith's campaign chairman, Chris Korge, and former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a campaign co-chairman, appeared for him.

"Rod Smith totally supports the ticket," Butterworth said, before going after Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris, leaving his party's candidates free to stick to the high road.

"We don't want what's-her-name?" Butterworth crowed. "I'm glad she's on the ballot. I really am."

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman took the opportunity to conjoin Harris, unpopular among Democrats, to Crist's campaign - a strategy sure to be used again and again.

"Charlie Crist and his friend Katherine Harris just don't get it," she said.

Finally, the big three Democrats took the stage. Sink talked of her financial experience and a recent endorsement by Republican former state Comptroller Bob Milligan. She introduced Nelson by saying "let's let him win with a 30- or 40-point margin."

Nelson said he'd fight for fiscal responsibility, a good prescription drug plan, an alternative fuel plan and protection for Florida's coasts from oil drilling.

Davis spoke loudly for Nelson and Sink and said his primary opponent will join him on the campaign trail. He stuck close to one theme when he referred to his Republican rival.

"Charlie Crist is uttering the three most treacherous words any politician can utter in the United States: Stay the course," he said, which to Davis means road congestion, poor schools and high insurance rates.

When each finished, the three Democrat heavyweights held up each other's hands above their heads like prizefighters who had just won the championship.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Democrat endorses Lee

TALLAHASSEE - It was tit-for-tat in the race for Florida chief financial officer Friday, as Republican Tom Lee received the endorsement of a former Democratic Cabinet member.

The announcement that former Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford supports Lee came a day after former Comptroller Bob Milligan, a Republican, endorsed Lee's Democratic opponent, Alex Sink.

"Tom Lee has been an independent-minded and courageous leader who has stood up for consumers, even if that meant bucking his own party," Crawford said.

Like Milligan, Crawford has a history of crossing party lines. In previous elections he endorsed Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush, Republicans.

- ASSOCIATED PRESS