Trail Dust: Focus on Florida

This is a partial transcript from "The Beltway Boys," October 16, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: The hotly contested Florida Senate race is the topic of this week's Trail Dust. Fred has just been to Florida. It's an open seat, pitting Democrat Betty Castor (search) against Republican Mel Martinez (search). And terrorism is emerging as the key issue.

Here's a look at the ads:


ANNOUNCER: Betty Castor says...

BETTY CASTOR: As university president, I took action to remove a suspected terrorist from our campus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unfortunately, that's wrong. I know. I'm Bill West. When I was a special agent in the federal INS, I launched the criminal investigation into the terrorist activity at the University of South Florida. As university president, Betty Castor's lack of strong leadership allowed a dangerous situation to get worse.



ANNOUNCER: Hypocritical attacks by Mel Martinez can't hide his record. As chair of George Bush's Florida campaign, Martinez allowed suspected terrorist Sami al-Arian to campaign with Bush, years after al- Arian was suspended by Betty Castor. Martinez said it was irrelevant that Bush campaigned with a suspected terrorist.


FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: I think, I think just met him at a rally somewhere. But Martinez was the co-chair of Bush's Florida campaign in 2000.  Look, this is a race that pits two very good candidates.  They're the best their parties could put up, I think.

Betty Castor was a college president, the University of South Florida, suspended for a while Sami al-Arian, who, it turns out, in 2003 was indicted. He's in jail right now for heading a terrorist organization, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Now, a lot of this information came out in the newspaper and in a television documentary done by our friend Steve Emerson in the mid-'90s. She suspended him for a couple years, but since he hadn't been indicted, she rehired him again. Her successor, however, at the University of South Florida, fired Sami al-Arian in, in 2001, I believe.

Any case, and anyway, this is a short campaign. The primary was late August 31, September was wiped up by hurricanes in Florida. And now we come to October, and terrorism is the dominant issue. And I think by and large, it aids Mel Martinez, you know, the former HUD secretary, who the White House convinced he ought to go down in, and, and run for that seat.

They're both from central Florida. They both have great stories. Mel Martinez came to the U.S. when he was 15 and all alone, didn't speak English, obviously has done pretty well. Because this issue and Rudy Giuliani's been down to Florida, you know, talking about terrorism as well, backing Martinez, I think he's the favorite.

But they're, they're both excellent candidates.

KONDRACKE: Well, there is a poll out that shows that Martinez has a 5-point lead and significantly, I thought, in that poll, 68 percent of all Hispanics, which includes not, not only Cubans but other Hispanics as well, are for Martinez.  That's pretty, pretty big lead.


KONDRACKE: And I think he's got a, a marginal lead, even in Tampa Bay which is Castor's territory.

BARNES: Right, right, yes. A race to watch, though. And, Democrats can't win back the Senate if they don't hold onto that seat in Florida, which Bob Graham is vacating.

All right, let's check out this week's battleground polls. These were taken before Wednesday night's final debate.

We begin in Ohio. John Kerry's leading there, maintaining his lead.  He's up 4 in the latest poll. Bush won Ohio by that same margin in 2000.

Pennsylvania remains with Kerry this week, but his lead is narrowing.  He's only up 2 points in the most recent poll. Gore won Pennsylvania by 4 in 2000.

Kerry picks up Wisconsin. He has a 4-point lead in the latest Chicago Tribune poll there. Gore won that state by about 5,000 votes in 2000.

And Kerry regains the lead in Minnesota. He's up 5 points in the latest poll in Minnesota. Gore won that state by only 2 points in 2000.

KONDRACKE: So here's how it looks this week, tightening up. Kerry picks up Minnesota and Wisconsin, but he still trails President Bush in our Electoral Scoreboard: Bush has 283 electoral votes to Kerry's 255.

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