ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The St. Petersburg Times rescinded its endorsement of Mel Martinez (search) in Tuesday's Republican Senate primary, accusing him of "hateful and dishonest attacks" on fellow Republican Bill McCollum (search).
In an editorial published Monday, the newspaper said it took the unusual step of withdrawing an endorsement because the former Bush Cabinet member "took his campaign into the gutter with hateful and dishonest attacks" over McCollum's support of a hate crimes bill and the 2000 Senate race.
The newspaper cited a Martinez campaign mailer that called McCollum "the new darling of the homosexual extremists" because he supported a hate crime bill that included protection of gays. It also criticized a conference call of social conservatives arranged by the campaign in which McCollum was labeled "antifamily."
McCollum had called on Martinez to repudiate the mailing and the comments during a debate on Friday. Martinez refused.
On Monday, McCollum accused Martinez of "trying to use the politics of bigotry and hatred to get elected."
Martinez, the former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, pulled a television ad criticizing McCollum's views on the hate crime bill and stem cell research Saturday. But his spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe said the campaign had nothing to apologize for.
"We're highlighting the difference for voters," Coxe said. "Mel stands with George W. Bush on the issue of stem cell research and Bill McCollum stands with John Kerry."
Seven Republicans are on the ballot in the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, while three prominent Democrats are locked in their own close contest.