With a week to go before the election, Gov. Bob Martinez is using a blast from the past to brand Democratic opponent Lawton Chiles as a liberal. Martinez launched a new radio ad Monday that criticizes Chiles for voting in 1978 "to give away our Panama Canal." Chiles, staging one of his trademark counter-rallies nearby, said the Panama Canal was one of the toughest votes of his career because he knew it would be unpopular.
Getting support again from the White House, Martinez campaigned in Pensacola and Bradenton with Vice President Dan Quayle. Martinez and Quayle rallied a crowd of about 320 people at an auditorium in downtown Bradenton, then walked across the street to the South Florida Museum, where they fed lettuce leaves to a 42-year-old manatee named Snooty.
Martinez, who has raised $10.2-million for his re-election campaign, also launched two new television commercials _ one featuring an endorsement from Barbara Bush, the other on crime, the environment and taxes.
The Bradenton trip was arranged to benefit John McKay, a
Republican candidate who is running for the state Senate against Chiles' son, Ed, a restaurateur from Anna Maria Island.
"We have a common goal," Martinez said as he stood with McKay, a Bradenton businessman. "We're going to retire two Chileses in one day."
Whenever Martinez has brought in a big gun from the White House, often to raise money as well as rally support, Chiles has crashed the party with a symbolic counter-picnic. He did it again Monday, staging a $1.50 hot dog dinner at a city park nearby.
Earlier, Chiles came to Sarasota-Bradenton Airport and greeted the Republican crowd awaiting Quayle's arrival. Dressed in a plaid shirt and khaki trousers, Chiles quipped that he was in Manatee County "to ride Ed's coattails."
Bush and Quayle have visited Florida at least seven times to raise money and rally support for Martinez. Quayle again repeated an often-used White House slogan for the campaign in Florida. "When Bob Martinez speaks, the president listens," Quayle said.
The vice president said Republican candidates would not be hurt by Bush's reversal of his pledge to oppose new taxes. The president has agreed to sign a new deficit-reduction budget that raises income taxes for some workers and raises taxes on beer, cigarettes and luxury items.
"The budget was a difficult time," Quayle said. "The Democrats insisted on taxes being raised and Republicans insisted spending cuts be a part of it. ... We got a budget. It's better than not doing anything at all."
Pressing the attack on Chiles as a liberal, Martinez dusted off the Panama Canal vote that proved to be powerful years ago. In a 1980 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, for instance, a conservative Republican rode that issue to an upset victory over an incumbent Democrat.
Chiles laughed and shook his head when told of Martinez's new radio spot.
"I think that tells me he's behind and he's trying to appeal to the far right," Chiles said.
Chiles said he knew the Panama Canal vote would be unpopular. But he said he was convinced that the only way to keep the canal operating was to return it to the control of the Panamanian people. Keeping the waterway would have meant losing the support of the Panamanian people and leaving the canal vulnerable.
The continued support of the Panamanian people, Chiles said, was essential when U.S. troops attacked the forces of Manuel Noriega.
"If we hadn't given the canal back, we would have been considered the enemy," said Chiles, who won re-election after the canal treaty vote. "It would have been very hard on our troops."
A crowd of about 200 people gathered in a modest park in Bradenton for Chiles' hot dog rally. Chiles shared the stage with his son Ed, who is trying to win the seat vacated when Republican Sen. Marlene Woodson Howard ran for governor.
"I'm the chip here today," the younger Chiles said, "and I want to introduce you to the block _ Lawton Chiles."
In a spirited speech, delivered under a canopy of Spanish moss-draped trees, Lawton Chiles touched on the main themes of his campaign _ mentioning often his refusal to accept donations in excess of $100.
Chiles delighted the friendly crowd when he recounted a recent conversation that linked his candidacy with the style of the Kennedy presidency.
"I met a man tonight who said he hadn't participated in politics since the 1960s," Chiles said. "He said, "Maybe this can be Camelot again.' Now that's exciting."