GOP looks to the election after the election

Published September 24, 2006

Republican activists gathered in Orlando for their party's quarterly meeting this weekend, cheering on their candidates - and also quietly buzzing about another looming election. The next GOP chairperson will be elected in Orlando early next year, and it's unclear yet whether current chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan will seek another term.

Nobody wants to talk too much about that race before November, but among those in the mix: Jordan; former state House Speaker Allan Bense; Pinellas state committeeman Paul Bedinghaus; Republican national committeewoman Sharon Day of Broward County. Should Charlie Crist win the governor's mansion, he'll presumably be the deciding vote.

POLL POSITION: Don't rule out a close gubernatorial race. A new poll for the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers shows Republican Crist leading Democrat Jim Davis among the 818 likely voters surveyed, 45 percent to 39 percent.

Considering Crist has been on TV steadily since May and has run statewide several times before, this is pretty encouraging for Davis. Crist has not yet reached the key 50 percent mark.

The Bendixon & Associates poll shows 56 percent of independent voters have a positive opinion of Crist while 46 percent have a positive opinion of Davis (42 percent didn't know enough to answer about Davis, while 27 percent didn't know enough about Crist). Among Republicans, 71 percent backed Crist-Kottkamp, while 65 percent of Democrats backed Davis-Jones. Crist had the support of 45 percent of independents, compared to 37 percent for Davis.

Among Hispanics, 43 percent backed Crist and 36 percent Davis. Among African-Americans, 61 percent backed Davis, 13 percent Crist, and 27 percent were undecided.

DAVIS' MONEY WOES: Some polls may put Davis in striking distance of Crist but not their campaign accounts. Crist raised $1.2-million in the first full week of the general election, almost 10 times what Davis raised. The state party's federal accounts - which pay for most of the get-out-the-vote effort - are also lopsided: nearly $400,000 for the Democratic Party as of Aug. 31, compared to $5.65-million for the Republicans.

Crist has been running a steady stream of TV ads, including a new one bashing Davis as a tax raiser, while the Davis campaign doesn't want to start airing ads until it's sure it has the money to keep airing them through the election. Sound familiar? Crist's primary rival Tom Gallagher in the spring held off airing ads for weeks to marshal resources - only to see Crist's lead steadily increase in the polls and Gallagher's fundraising slow as a result.

No wonder Republicans gathered in Orlando Thursday to see President Bush help raise $2-million for the Florida GOP were so upbeat.

"I'm assuming the Democratic National Committee has already conceded the race," said a chuckling Mark Guzzetta, a top Republican fundraiser mingling at the Ritz. "I haven't seen a Davis ad. He does not have the money, and he does not have a message."

2008 PREVIEWS: Aspiring presidential candidates - including Republicans John McCain, Mitt Romney and Democrat John Edwards - already have to come campaign for Florida's gubernatorial candidates, and plenty more are on the way. Republican Rudy Giuliani is expected to campaign for Crist soon, and Democrat John Kerry will help raise money for Democrats, including Congressional candidate Phyllis Busansky, on Sept. 30.

Former Democratic Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is set to raise money for Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee in Tampa Oct. 4, while former President Bill Clinton will be in South Florida raising money later in October.

CRIST AND MUSLIMS: Given that the Rev. O'Neal Dozier of Broward County earlier this year said Jesus told him Crist would be the next governor, maybe it was logical Crist this summer declined to bash the Broward minister for calling Islam a cult. Gov. Jeb Bush pulled Dozier from a judicial nominating commission, but Crist declined to remove him from his campaign's family policy advisory committee. Why tick off someone with a direct line to the Lord Jesus?

But now that Dozier has taken to distributing comic books that depict Islam as a dangerous religion that Christians should fear and fight, Crist has decided enough is enough. He said Friday he has yanked Dozier from his campaign committee, calling the comics "insensitive to say the least."

BERFIELD Vs. JUSTICE: Check out the candidates in Florida's most competitive state Senate race, Republican state Rep. Kim Berfield of Clearwater and Democratic state Rep. Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg, on Political Connections today. The senate District 16 candidates can be seen at 11 a.m. today on Bay News 9 or on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on demand) after that.

W's YAWNER: Back in 2004, President Bush came to Orange County and wound up overshadowed - and all over late night TV - by 13-year-old Tyler Crotty, who could be seen behind the president yawning, squirming and apparently bored out of his mind. Back in Orlando Thursday, Bush reminded Orange County chairman Rich Crotty of the incident.

"One of my longtime friends here in Orange County is a guy whose son made him famous a while ago. You might remember the incident. I was up there giving one of my best speeches. I was putting a hundred percent into it. I thought I had the crowd on their feet, until I looked behind me. And Crotty's son was sound asleep. So Crotty, you tell him, stay awake the next time he comes to one of these things. It kind of hurts an old guy's feelings."

WHERE'S ROD? Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith skipped the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee dinner Thursday night, apparently joining 10,000 others at the Tom Petty concert at the University of Florida. Smith said earlier he was leaning toward the dinner, where Jim Davis' running mate, Daryl Jones, spoke to 550 people, but this was not your ordinary rock show. Petty and a few of his Heartbreakers are from Gainesville.

Jon Reiskind, head of the committee, said he was disappointed. "Rod's got a lot of support here, but we have to pull together if we have a chance in November. We were very supportive of Rod, but we're even more supportive of the Democratic Party." Reiskind noted Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan managed to make both events, but said a candidate for sheriff, who is related to Petty, also skipped the dinner.

JENNINGS BEATING BUCHANAN? An internal poll for 13th Congressional District Democratic candidate Christine Jennings, suggests the tough GOP primary to succeed Katherine Harris took a real toll on Republican Vern Buchanan. The Hamilton Beattie poll of 500 likely voters conducted Sept. 8-12 in the heavily Republican district shows Jennings leading 46 percent to 38 percent (48 percent to 30 among independents). From pollster Dave Beattie's memo:

"After winning the Republican primary with less than one-third of the vote, Vern Buchanan enters the general election with a battered personal image among voters in the district. Buchanan's favorability rating is currently net negative (35% favorable - 38% unfavorable) after a divisive primary in which questions were raised about Buchanan's past business dealings.

"Despite this being the home district of Katherine Harris, Bill Nelson leads Harris in the race for US Senate (50% Nelson - 41% Harris - 10% undecided). Like Buchanan, Harris has a net negative favorable rating (40% favorable - 53% unfavorable)."


Staff writers Adam C. Smith and Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.