A Call for Fla. Peace

Boyd, Castor Write to Primary Foes and Urge Focus on Issues

Posted July 11, 2003 at 6:38pm

Rep. Allen Boyd, who is weighing a bid for Senate in Florida next year, issued a civility plea to fellow Democratic contenders last week, urging them to lay off the name-calling in a race that could evaporate overnight if Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) decides to seek re-election.

In a letter Friday to four other potential candidates, Boyd urged the Democrats to stick to the issues, treat one another with respect and focus on “differences of policy, not of personality.”

“Name-calling and personal attacks fully 16 months before the election do not serve the interests of our party or our state,” Boyd wrote.

The letter comes two weeks after another Senate candidate, Rep. Peter Deutsch (D-Fla.), hijacked the spotlight and most of the media coverage of the state’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner. Deutsch refused to attend the annual gathering of Florida Democrats because Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas (D), who is also running for Senate, was being honored with an award.

Deutsch, Penelas and former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor are the only Democrats so far who have said they definitely are in the race if Graham is not. Castor issued a similar letter earlier last week, and proposed that the Democrats form a general election task force to begin planning for the coordinated campaign.

Deutsch charged that Penelas helped elect George W. Bush (R) president because he did not aggressively campaign for then-Vice President Al Gore (D). Penelas has said he supported Gore and that he helped him win Miami-Dade County by some 30,000 votes.

Upon hearing that response from Penelas, Deutsch was quoted by The Associated Press calling the mayor a “pathological liar.”

“I just thought it was a really bad way to start off,” Boyd said Friday, referring to the incident. “Certainly that kind of exchange is not very becoming of a person who wants to be a U.S. Senator.”

Deutsch said Friday that he supports the desire to run an issue-oriented campaign, but he did not back down from his decision not to attend the dinner — or his characterization of Penelas.

“I stand by those statements,” Deutsch said. “Being a pathological liar is a relevant issue in terms of a campaign.”

Deutsch also said he doesn’t think the campaign has been negative to this point. He said he looks forward to campaigning with Penelas and that he expects to support the Democratic nominee next year, regardless of who it is.

“I don’t think that there’s been a negative campaign at all,” Deutsch said. “My response in the paper, you know some people can view as negative. You know what, if you view the truth as negative, then the truth is negative.”

In defending his decision to skip the party dinner, Deutsch said that Rep. Alcee Hastings (D), who is also exploring a Senate bid, would not be attending the national NAACP convention underway in Miami due to the fact that Penelas was scheduled to greet the delegates today.

Hastings’ office had no comment on Deutsch’s statement.

Boyd consultant Bob Doyle said that the incidents underscore the importance for Democrats to nominate someone who can unify the party and said that Deutsch’s style has long been viewed as divisive.

“That works in a very safe House seat, but it does not work as well in a state as diverse as Florida,” Doyle said.

While the incident publicly exposed a rift on the Democratic side, Republicans say the Senate race hasn’t caused relations to sour on their side of the aisle, at least not yet.

Rep. Mark Foley (R) is the only current GOP member of the delegation officially in the race. However, Rep. Dave Weldon is exploring a bid and Rep. Katherine Harris continues to keep her name in the mix of potential candidates. Former Rep. Bill McCollum (R), who was defeated in a 2000 Senate bid, is also running for the seat.

“I haven’t seen any change in the relations within the delegation,” Weldon said last week, although he conceded that at times “it’s a little awkward.”

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) said the Senate race occasionally comes up in conversation when the 18 Republicans in the state delegation meet for lunch each Thursday.

Still, he said, “It’s easier to talk about what Democrats are doing.”

Feeney, who was Speaker of the Florida House before being elected in 2002, is also close to state Sen. Daniel Webster, another Republican eyeing the Senate race. Feeney called Webster “the closest thing to a mentor” that he has, and his chief of staff helped Webster arrange meetings when the state Senator visited Washington, D.C., last month to discuss a Senate bid.

Both Democrats and Republicans seem to agree that part of what’s keeping relations cordial at this point is the uncertainty of Graham’s plans clouding the race.

“Bob Graham is the 800-pound gorilla,” Foley noted.

The three-term Senator is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and has not said definitively whether he will run for re-election. Florida law appears to bar Graham from running for both offices, although Deutsch is seeking a legal ruling on whether that is in fact the case.

Hastings, who recently formed a Senate exploratory committee, said he and Boyd often jokingly call each other “Senator.”

“Peter is perhaps more aggressive than some of us,” Hastings said, “but he has the bigger war chest.”

Deutsch showed $3 million in the bank as of June 30, more than any other candidate running.

While all three of the House Democrats considering the Senate race maintain that they are all friends, Hastings said that could change once Graham’s ultimate plans are revealed.

“Maybe that’s why all of us can be so collegial now,” Hastings said. “Because none of us know what Bob Graham’s going to do.”

Harris agreed that it is too early in the race for relations to be frayed and insisted that there is still time for other Republicans to get in the race.

“They’ll be another key player in the race,” Harris said. “And I’m not referring to myself specifically.”

If Graham decides to run for re-election, all of the Democrats and likely most of the Republicans would drop out of the race. However, players in both parties know the gloves will come off if Graham says he will not seek a fourth term.

“If Senator Graham gets out of the race and doesn’t run for re-election, all hell will break loose,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who added that he believe Graham is really aiming for the vice presidential nomination.

“It will be interesting,” Mica added, “but it won’t be for the faint of heart to watch.”