New candidate faces challenge

Joe Negron will run for Mark Foley's seat, even though Foley's name will appear on the ballot.

Published October 3, 2006

ORLANDO - If nothing else, Republican Joe Negron showed optimism as he began a bizarre and tough campaign to succeed Mark Foley in Congress.

"This election is not about Mark Foley. Mark Foley is not an issue in this election," Negron declared, moments after state GOP leaders tapped him to replace Foley as their Republican congressional candidate.

Even with a strongly Republican south-central Florida district, state Rep. Negron, R-Stuart, will have a tough campaign in a race that will help determine whether Republicans maintain control of the U.S. House.

Foley, who resigned from Congress Friday amid revelations that he sent sexually explicit computer messages to teen pages, will be the name on the ballot, because it's too late for a change. The Negron campaign therefore must persuade voters to mark their ballots for a pedophilia suspect and in so doing elect Negron to Congress.

"My job beginning immediately is to get the word out to all these absentee voters and to everyone else in this race that you are not voting for Mark Foley," Negron said at a news conference in Orlando. "You are voting for the Republican nominee, and I'm not Mark Foley."

A TV reporter asked the next question: "Mr. Foley - er, Mr. Negron..."

"We have our work cut out for us," Negron said.

A prominent state legislator who dropped out of the GOP primary for attorney general earlier this year, Negron, 44, is banking on the district's strong Republican leanings to overcome the difficulty of campaigning with Foley's name on the ballot.

President Bush won the district stretching from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast with 54 percent of the vote in 2004, and Gov. Jeb Bush won with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2002.

"I know these constituents. I grew up with them. I represented many of them in the Legislature for six years. They do not want a John Kerry Democrat to represent them in Congress," Negron said. "(They) don't want our congressman on C-SPAN ripping the president of the United States and instead of fighting terrorists, giving our secretary of defense a hard time."

He faces a credible and wealthy Democratic candidate, businessman Tim Mahoney, who said Monday that his campaign message remains the same as ever:

"I will continue to run a campaign to restore Florida values and morals to Washington and solve the critical challenges facing Florida's 16th Congressional District," Mahoney said. "I am a common-sense businessman who will work across the aisle to make our country more secure, restore integrity to public office, and create opportunities for all Americans."

Negron still has a hefty campaign account from his attorney general race, but must refund checks to individuals who contributed to that campaign and ask them to then contribute to his congressional race. He said that he should quickly raise about $600,000 that way and that national and state Republicans will pump in much more to keep the seat.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8241 or asmith@sptimes.com.