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Senate candidates face dirty work

Mud is flying in St. Petersburg. State Sen. Jeanne Malchon, D-St. Petersburg, and Republican challenger Don Sullivan are both complaining about mud in their campaign.

Both claim the other is slinging it.

Malchon on Tuesday issued a written statement saying that Sullivan is distorting the truth by accusing her of proposing a state income tax.

"That's a lie, and Don Sullivan and Bob Martinez know it," Malchon said in the statement. "I'm not proposing a state income tax."

In an interview, Malchon continued her attack on Sullivan. "The man is willing to stoop to anything to get elected," she said.

Sullivan points out that Malchon did, in fact, introduce a bill to create a state income tax. Malchon introduced the legislation during a 1987 special session in which the Legislature repealed a short-lived tax on services.

But Malchon said that was more of a symbolic gesture designed to show that state government was shirking its duty to find a fair and adequate revenue source.

Now Sullivan has begun television commercials portraying Malchon as a tax-loving politician.

In a new commercial, an elderly woman complains that Malchon has voted for too many tax increases.

"In 1990 she voted for the largest tax increase in Florida history. It's not fair," the woman says.

Sullivan's charges have prompted Malchon to come up with her own television commercial that rates Sullivan's claims on a "mud meter." It accuses him of distorting her views.

But she can hit hard, too. In her statement Tuesday, Malchon said:

"People like Sullivan and his fat cat cronies _ who make over half a million dollars a year and own their own airplane _ would like to put the burden on middle-income families of caring for our elderly, for our children and for our environment."

"To me, that sounds like mudslinging and is a personal attack," Sullivan said in response. "You can't name one time during this campaign when I have attacked her personally."

Malchon is seeking re-election to state Senate District 18, which includes Gulfport, most of St. Petersburg, part of Seminole and the beach communities from North Redington Beach south.

Malchon, 67, has served in the Senate seat since 1982. Sullivan, 54, an orthopedic surgeon who lives in Seminole and has an office in St. Petersburg, has never run for office before.

The race is considered a key match-up because Florida Republicans hope to unseat enough Democratic senators to gain their first majority in the Senate since the days of Reconstruction.

Malchon contends that is why this campaign has gotten so heated. She said Martinez and the Republican Party were angry with her because she has opposed Martinez on several issues.

"The governor has not asked me for advice, the governor has not asked me for help, and I'm not asking him," Sullivan responded.

In contrast to the 60-second spots, Malchon has produced a half-hour television cable program to discuss her record. The program will air on Paragon Ch. 9 at noon today, 10:30 p.m. Thursday, 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Monday.