During Tuesday’s primary elections Florida voters selected former USF President Betty Castor for the Democratic nomination and Mel Martinez for the Republican nomination. for the U.S. Senate.
With 89 percent of the precincts reporting, Castor received 58.6 percent of the votes over U.S. Congressman Peter Deutsch, who received 26.9 percent. Martinez received 45.3 percent of the votes over former U.S. Congressman Bill McCollum, who received 30.8 percent of the votes.
Castor said Tuesday night she wanted to thank all her staff, volunteers and most importantly, the voters in Florida for supporting her campaign.
“Most of all I want to thank the people of Florida, who believed in us and believed that attacking our problems and not each other,” she said.
Castor’s grandchildren were present Tuesday night at her victory party at the Italian Club in Ybor City, she said.
“This campaign is for them and every child in Florida, so they grow up in a happy and safe America,” Castor said.
Sen. Bob Graham, who vacates his U.S. Senate seat this year, was also in attendance at Castor’s victory party and supported her nomination for his seat.
“I have run lots of times in Florida for different things and the people have always been extremely generous, but they have never been as generous to me as they were to Betty here tonight,” Graham said in an Associated Press report.
Castor won despite attacks by Deutsch for her handling of former USF computer science professor Sami al-Arian, who was arrested in February 2003, on a 50-count indictment on alleged connections to terrorism.
“Also thank you for those who believe that America is stronger when you put differences aside,” Castor said. “Thank you to my opponents, who have also pledged to support my candidacy.”
Martinez, a former Bush administration housing secretary, was hoping to become the first Cuban-American senator. Martinez received his fair share of negative campaigning from competitor McCollum when Martinez refused to stop his campaign mailing, called McCollum “the new darling of the homosexual extremists” for his support for a hate-crime bill that included protection for homosexuals, according to the Associated Press. McCollum accused him of practicing “the politics of bigotry and hatred,” the AP report stated.
Martinez also thanked his supporters and voters Tuesday night at his victory party in Orlando.
“Thank you to all my supporters across the state from the Keys all the way up to Tallahassee,” Martinez said. “For those who voted for me tonight, thank you very much.”
Martinez also addressed all the GOP candidates running.
“We all took a risk in running,” he said. “But we also made a contribution and any one of those candidates would have been an excellent choice.”
USF political science professor J. Edwin Benton said the selection of Castor over Deutsch was not surprising because of Castor’s name recognition in the state.
“Castor has a wide state representation because of her being a state senator and former education commissioner,” Benton said. “It does not surprise me one bit, though I thought it maybe a little bit closer in numbers.”
Benton added that he thinks Deutsch’s campaign against Castor did more harm than good for him.
“It was so negative, I think it backfired,” he said.
Benton said he thought McCollum would have been the choice among Republican voters in Florida.
“It is a bit of a surprise to me,” Benton said. “Martinez winning is probably in part because of his endorsement from President Bush. I suppose Republicans thought McCollum was not the right choice.”
With the Republican National Convention taking place this week in New York City, Benton said the president, should be happy to see Martinez’s win for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Florida.
“A vote for Martinez is a vote for Bush,” he said. “President Bush is probably feeling very good and this nomination shows to be very promising for Bush in November.”
The other candidates vying for the seat for the Republicans were mortgage broker Doug Gallagher, who received 13.5 percent of the 89 precincts reporting; former Florida House speaker Johnnie Byrd, who received 5.6 percent; and Gulf War veteran and patent attorney Sonya March, who received 1.5 percent for the Republican nomination.
For the Democrats, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas received 10.4 percent, while Bernard Klein received 4.1 percent for the Democrat nomination.
Castor and Martinez will go head-to-head for Graham’s vacated seat in the general election Nov. 2.