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Straw poll is shunned, embraced

By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published November 28, 2007


At least 1,500 tickets have been sold for tonight's "Have Your Say in Tampa Bay" GOP straw poll and debate watch party at St. Petersburg's Vinoy Park. The buzz is that two campaigns are working hardest to rack up a victory at that straw poll of Republicans in the biggest battleground region in America's biggest battleground state - Ron Paul and Mitt Romney.

"Calling all Ron Paul supporters: The Champion of the Constitution needs our help," declared one e-mail asking Ron Paul supporters to make a strong showing. "Everybody should play to win. ... We're going to have people from all over the state here," Paul supporter Paul Bourgeois said.

Romney spokeswoman Kristy Campbell was a bit more vague: "We've encouraged our supporters to go."

Rudy Giuliani spokesman Elliott Bundy said Giuliani is more or less ignoring the straw poll: "In keeping with our policy throughout the campaign of not participating in straw polls, whether it's county straw polls or Ames, we will not be participating in that straw poll."

Pinellas GOP chairman Tony DiMatteo said that he can't tell which campaign has the most supporters buying tickets and that his personal endorsement of Giuliani on Tuesday has no effect on the straw poll. The supervisor of the elections office, in fact, will be tallying the voting machine results to ensure no funny business.

The straw poll event is from 4-7 p.m. at Vinoy Park, 501 Fifth Ave. NE. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the gate.

Crist has CAT query

Gov. Charlie Crist has his own YouTube debate question for the presidential candidates. He begins by explaining Florida's hurricane catastrophe fund, then asks: "Would you support a national fund that would provide similar protection for homeowners throughout our country? Protection from wildfires, floods, tornadoes and other catastrophes?"

Don't expect to see the question on TV, though. It was not submitted in time. Rather, the Republican Party of Florida said it is intended to promote the debate.

Stars and signs

More plans for events surrounding today's debate:

MIKE HUCKABEE: Television and movie action star Chuck Norris will accompany Huckabee in the postdebate "spin room," so named because campaigns try to sway reporters on why they did well or why an opponent bombed. The two men may also informally meet with supporters.

John McCain: Supporters will gather for a predebate party at 4:30 p.m. today at the Parkshore Grill, 300 Beach Drive, in downtown St. Petersburg. McCain is scheduled to stop by to greet the faithful at about 5 p.m.

Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani's campaign will have an event for supporters to wave signs at 5:30 p.m. today outside the Mahaffey Theater. At 8 p.m., a debate-watching party will take place at the Midtown Sundries Restaurant and Sports Bar, 200 First Ave. S.

Protest away

St. Petersburg officials say protesters can assemble anywhere they please as long as they obey all laws and don't cross the barricades that have been set up as part of security. Police Chief Chuck Harmon said the city has not set up any designated protest zones.

Times staff writers David DeCamp, Alex Leary, Abhi Raghunathan and Janet Zink contributed to this report.

[Last modified November 27, 2007, 23:32:36]

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