Tags: Florida | Martinez | Close | Victory

In Florida, Martinez Close to Victory

Sunday, 24 October 2004 12:00 AM

The latest Zogby tracking poll shows that Mel Martinez, the former HUD Secretary, is within striking distance of beating his liberal Democrat rival, Betty Castor. The pollster says its poll ending Oct. 24 finds Martinez leading Castor 47% to 44%.

The Martinez race is critical in several ways. A big Martinez win could pull in new Hispanic voters to the Republican column and help President Bush take this state that defines the term "battleground."

The race is also key for control of the Senate. Retiring Democratic Senator Bob Graham is vacating the seat. Democrats need to keep the seat to have any prayer of gaining control of the Senate; Republicans want to win in Florida to offset possible losses elsewhere.

The last three polls show the race either tied or slightly favoring Martinez.

But the momentum favors the Republican, as Martinez has climbed a stunning 20 points in his Mason Dixon poll numbers since he won the GOP primary August 31.

The Tampa Tribune reported that that Castor was having great difficulty in hanging on to her Democratic base - a whopping 14 percent of Democrats say they plan to vote for Martinez.

Moreover, the Tallahassee Democrat reported recently that Martinez had overtaken Castor apparently by adding North Florida support to his base in Orlando and his strong support in Miamu from fellow Cuban Americans.

The newspaper noted that the poll numbers were "especially significant because they emphasized Martinez's drawing power in densely populated southeast Florida, a Democratic stronghold, and along the Interstate 4 corridor, where he was Orange County chairman before being appointed secretary of Housing and Urban Development."

Martinez "even has a narrow lead in the Gulf Coast region, which includes Castor's home area of Tampa Bay," Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., told the Democrat.

The strongly pro-life Martinez describes himself as George Bush-style compassionate conservative.

Martinez's campaign describes Castor as "radical," pointing to the substantial support - close to $1 million - she has received from Emily's List, a Democratic fundraising group for women who favor abortion rights. His campaign called the Council for a Livable World, an arms control organization that also donated to Castor, "a left-wing, anti-military" group.

Backed by Janet Reno's supporters - and political machine - during the Democratic primary, Castor has gotten the attention of national Democrats who fear Martinez's ascension to the Senate.

Last week Hillary Clinton made a special campaign swing to bolster Castors' sagging support in South Florida.

But Castor may have real problems with swing voters and Jewish voters worried about terrorism and radical Islam.

During Castor's tenure as president of the University of South Florida, her critics contend she turned a blind eye to Sami al Arian, a professor who has since been charged with terrorism crimes.

Al-Arian is proving to be a winning issue, Martinez's pollster says. Martinez's campaign has been running ads produced that suggest Castor was too weak in dealing with al-Arian when, as president of USF, she found out he was being investigated for possible ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization.

"Every night our tracking is asking the question - who do you think is better on terrorism? - and Martinez is ahead 2-1," a Martinez campaign insider told the Palm Beach Post.

"Florida's next Senator must be someone who knows the War on Terror is a noble mission," said Sen. Orrin Hatch Saturday. "Mel Martinez knows that the United States is a beacon of hope, not a bully."

Martinez's background is one of his greatest strengths. As NewsMax.com reported, when he nominated Martinez to a top administration post President Bush called him "The embodiment of the American Dream..."

Martinez was the first popularly elected Republican to serve as Orange County Chairman - chief executive of one of Florida's largest counties and now a key election battleground.

Elected in 1998 with over 60 percent of the vote against a popular State Senator, he quickly earned a reputation as a bold leader, a tax-cutter, and a champion of law enforcement and education.

While Orange County Chairman, Martinez cut property taxes by tens of millions of dollars, increased funding for public safety and instituted what has since become known as the "Martinez Doctrine" - which were unprecedented steps to ensure that development would not continue to put pressure on already crowded schools.

As Housing & Urban Development Secretary, Martinez took over an embattled agency and quickly became known for cutting millions by eliminating fraud, waste and abuse, and making sure taxpayers' money was being spent responsibly.

Martinez came to Florida from his native Cuba at age 15 as a part of "Operation Peter Pan," a humanitarian program led by the Catholic Church that helped over 14,000 Cuban children escape Communist Cuba.

"Winning the war on terror and keeping our families safe here at home are my highest priorities and they are the highest priorities of our great Commander in Chief - President George W. Bush," Martinez, who celebrated his 58th birthday Saturday, said. "Our armed forces and our veterans have earned not only our gratitude, but also our commitment to providing them with every benefit they have been promised and unwavering support for their mission - unwavering. John Kerry and Betty Castor don't believe in that mission. Betty Castor says we should have left Saddam Hussein in power and waited on the U.N. for permission to protect our freedom."

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The latest Zogby tracking poll shows that Mel Martinez, the former HUD Secretary, is within striking distance of beating his liberal Democrat rival, Betty Castor. The pollster says its poll ending Oct. 24 finds Martinez leading Castor 47% to 44%. The Martinez race is...
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Sunday, 24 October 2004 12:00 AM
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