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Bush tries to make Negron household name

The governor campaigns with the man who will be " F oley" on the ballot.

Published October 17, 2006

[AP photo]
Joe Negron, a Republican congressional candidate for Floridas 16th district, campaigns Monday at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County in Port Charlotte alongside Gov.Jeb Bush.

PORT CHARLOTTE - Congressional candidate Joe Negron did not expect the cameras, the reporters and a crowd of Republican operatives and Gov. Jeb Bush adorers when he walked into the Cultural Center of Charlotte County on Monday.

Bush had to remind Negron to wave.

"I'm not a big waver," Negron said in his speech to about 200 people. "I'm a big write things down and bring money to Charlotte County when you guys need it."

Bush brought his star power to Charlotte County to help Negron, a state representative, spread his name. Negron's biggest challenge is recognition, as he mounts a last-minute race for the seat held by Mark Foley, who resigned over lurid Internet messages he sent to congressional pages.

The opportunity to question a popular governor about a scandal that has dominated political headlines attracted a minor media frenzy. Negron looked a bit lost at times, as he trailed behind cameras that followed Bush on a tour of the cultural center, which included receiving a flu shot from county health department nurses.

Yet Negron didn't push or squeeze by anyone to get into a photo with Bush, as other politicians might.

"It's crazy," Negron said. "I was expecting one or two reporters and maybe one camera. I walked in, and I had no idea what I was expecting it to be."

Negron said attention to the Foley scandal has helped introduce him to voters. Negron is in the awkward position of having to convince voters that a vote for Foley is a vote for him. Foley's name, not Negron's, will appear on the ballot Nov. 7, because Florida law prevents changing ballots so close to an election.

The event drew local Republican stalwarts, as well as dozens of Bush fans who mostly wanted the governor to autograph their campaign fliers, which touted Negron.

Democrat Arturo Dieguez, 48, happened upon the event while bringing his mother, Elsa, to the cultural center. Both are big fans of Bush and are especially fond of his wife, Columba.

"I've never seen him in person before," Dieguez said. "Wonderful governor."

And Negron?

"Oh, yes, he sounded good, too," said Dieguez of Port Charlotte, who plans to vote for Negron.

Negron's opponent, Democrat Tim Mahoney of Palm Beach Gardens, has a lead that varies in polls. On Monday, Bush signaled his intent to work hard to help Negron win the seat. He has dismissed reports, mostly out of Washington, that the Foley scandal practically gives the seat to the Democrats.

"People are smarter than the pundits give them credit for. The world knows that Mark Foley is in rehab now trying to sort out his life, that he's a congressman in disgrace, that he's not on the ballot, that he's not running," Bush said. "If you find somebody in this district that's registered to vote that doesn't know that, come talk to me."

Port Charlotte will play host to more bigwig campaigning today, as Mahoney stops by with a Democratic heavyweight, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who ran in the 2004 presidential primary.

[Last modified October 17, 2006, 01:50:40]

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