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First-time candidate aims to make an impression

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 19, 2000


Image can be everything in politics. And Betsy McCoy Benedict, a Democrat running for office for the first time, wants to make sure voters form a positive first impression of her.

So she plans to show voters that she can pack heat. Benedict, a woman running for state House District 56, plans to mail out campaign fliers showing her firing a shotgun. Benedict, a lawyer who has a concealed weapons permit, regularly shoots clay pigeons with friends and carries a handgun for protection. She recently ordered a Beretta Tom Cat and chose a model specially designed to fit a woman's hand.

Benedict wants voters in her district, which includes rural Riverview, to know that she won't take away their firearms. She does support waiting periods, background checks and bans on cop-killing bullets.

"I think there are a lot more women who are like me, who have a gun for their own personal protection," Benedict said.

Benedict's opponent, state Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, said she doesn't carry weapons. "My priority and my focus is taking care of children -- they are all around me," Murman said.

EYE ON THE CHAIR: County Commissioners usually don't take sides in their colleagues' races. But Commissioner Chris Hart has come out against fellow Commissioner Tom Scott in a rather decisive way.

Hart helped sponsor a fundraiser Friday for state Sen. James Hargrett Jr., who is running against Scott. Others on Hargrett's host committee included U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, Tampa City Council members Linda Saul-Sena, Mary Alvarez and Rose Ferlita, as well as City Attorney Jim Palermo and Fernando Noriega, the city's development administrator.

Hart's spot on the host committee was unusual because the Republican commissioner crossed party lines to support Hargrett, a Democrat, in a primary. No Republicans are running for the seat.

Hart has known Hargrett for years, and he said the veteran legislator will work well with Republicans on the commission. "I think he would do a good job," Hart said.

Hart has another reason for backing Hargrett as well. He said Hargrett, unlike Scott, will support him for County Commission chairman, a post that Hart has long coveted.

Hart backed Scott in 1996, but when it came time to seek Scott's vote for chairman, Scott turned against Hart, making it clear he couldn't back a Republican. "So I do what I have to do," Hart said.

(Hart, by the way, has also come out out against two other Democratic commissioners, Jan Platt and Ben Wacksman, who are up for election this fall.)

Scott, who supported Republican Dottie Berger for the post in 1996, said Hart and Hargrett's arrangement sounded like "Judas selling out Jesus for 30 pieces of silver."

FINDING CRIST'S CAMPAIGN: Looking for Victor Crist's campaign headquarters?

You'll have a hard time finding it. Crist, a Republican state representative running for the Florida Senate, claims he doesn't have a campaign office.

"We are operating out of people's homes and the trunks of cars," he said.

But Crist's home answering machine directs campaign calls to a phone that rings in an office under the same roof as his state legislative office.

Crist, R-Tampa Palms, said he never uses his state office to do campaign work. "I am doing everything accurately and legally by the rules," Crist said. "I haven't done anything wrong here."

Crist splits an office suite in Temple Terrace between his legislative office and his personal business: one room is paid for by taxpayers, the other is paid for by Crist, he said. The office has one entrance, and visitors have to walk through Crist's business office to reach his state legislative office. The "private" office that includes Crist's campaign phone looks a lot like it's part of Crist's state legislative office.

Crist said he will open another campaign office for his volunteers after the Republican primary.

"When you are doing a primary and you don't have a lot to spend, you keep your costs down," Crist said.

Crist's frugality hasn't stopped other campaign spending. Crist has spent about $76,000 on his campaign so far -- almost $49,000 more than his Republican opponent, former state Rep. Faye Culp.

That includes $908 to send flowers to supporters. "That is a token of appreciation . . . and it goes a long way," Crist said.

He also spent about $36,000 to pay political consultants to raise funds, develop strategy, design ads and target precincts. "You pick out the best people and you buy them," Crist said. "That way they are working for you and not for your opponent."

NO SHOW: By reading the League of Women Voters' ad, it looked like candidates Arthenia Joyner and Frank Reddick refused to debate each other. Both Democrats running for the state House in District 59 "declined to participate" in a televised debate sponsored by the league's Hillsborough County chapter, according to the ad.

But the ad leaves voters with the wrong impression, Reddick said.

Reddick backed out of the debate because his 64-year-old mother died three days before the debate. Reddick stopped campaigning and spent the week preparing his mother's funeral. "They refused to change the date," Reddick said.

Reddick's opponent could have gone on the televised forum anyway -- and gotten free TV time -- but she declined out of respect for Reddick.

"It was a difficult time for him, and we did understand that," said Dena Leavengood, the league president.

But the group could not hold the debate any other week, she said. "We don't want there to be negative connotations, but he also had the opportunity (to debate)," she said. "We did want people to know they were invited."

Incidentally, three other candidates who declined to debate didn't have nearly as good an excuse.

Republican David Weeks, running for state Senate District 21, never responded to the league's invitation, and GOP candidates Michael Bennett and Ronald Reagan, running for State House District 67, said the forum would not reach enough voters to be worth their time.

SAYING NO TO SAM: It was, as one speaker at a luncheon Friday suggested, a dirty trick.

Sam Rashid, a well-known Republican, bought the rights to Web sites with Commissioner Ben Wacksman's name to keep Wacksman from opening a campaign Web site. Rashid then offered to sell Wacksman his own Web site name back.

Rashid has vigorously backed Wacksman's GOP opponent, former prosecutor Stacey Easterling, in the District 1 County Commission race. On Friday at a luncheon of the Tiger Bay political club, Easterling was asked point-blank: Would she ask Rashid to give Wacksman hisWeb site name back?

"I can't control what any of my supporters do," Easterling said. "Whether or not I think it is good or bad is a moot point."

The crowd's boos then drowned her out.

By the way, Wacksman managed to find at least one suitable Web site name that had not been bought by Rashid: www.votewacksman.com.

BRADLEY FOR BUSH: As George W. Bush gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, a familiar face stood on stage just behind him. State Rep. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg, who is running for Florida Senate District 21, stood on stage during Bush's nationally-televised speech.

"It was wonderful -- what I consider to be a once in a lifetime experience," Bradley said.

Bradley said he didn't know why he got chosen to stand on stage with Bush.

It probably didn't hurt that Bradley, a Democrat who switched to the Republican Party, fit the party's political needs. He is an African-American candidate running for office at a time when the GOP wants to display its diversity.

CAMPAIGN CALENDAR: U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman will host a fundraiser and cocktail reception for Kathy Castor, a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 12, on Wednesday. The event will be held at the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. You can reserve a seat by calling (813) 265-8419.

Clerk of the Circuit Court Richard Ake will hold a campaign kick-off party on Tuesday at Higgins Hall at 5225 N Himes Ave. The event starts at 5:30 p.m., and tickets can be purchased at the door for $10. Call (813) 786-4849 for more information.

- Times staff writer David Karp was on Spin Patrol. He can be reached at (813) 226-3376 or karp@sptimes.com.

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