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Being commissioner of agriculture must be fun. The man who has the job now, Doyle Conner, has been at it since 1961. But after 30 years, Conner is retiring. Republican Charles Bronson and Democrat Bob Crawford are vying to succeed him.

They are taking distinctly different routes.

In campaign appearances, Bronson emphasizes his agricultural experience. Crawford says he wants to make the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs focus more on the second half of its mission: consumer issues.

In person, the candidates reflect their different approaches.

Bronson, a Central Florida rancher and former chemical salesman, is soft-spoken, nice in an old-fashioned way _ and sometimes a bit uninformed about non-agricultural issues.

Crawford, the state Senate president and a veteran of the Legislature's wars, is attentive, quick-witted, well-informed _ and sometimes a little slick.

Of the two campaigns, Crawford's appears to be thriving, while Bronson'sstruggles financially. Despite Bronson's claim to appeal to agricultural people, Crawford has gotten more campaign money and support from the state's big agricultural establishment. Crawford is expected to outspend Bronson 3- or 4-to-1.

Much of Bronson's support, by contrast, has come from hard-core Republican sources.

In addition, Crawford has been garnering endorsements from several environmental and educational groups. Those groups don't have much to do with farming, but the endorsements might impress voters, anyway _ especially those who realize that the agriculture commissioner also is a member of the state Cabinet, a powerful decision-making body in environmental and educational matters.

For all its importance, the campaign occasionally has gotten downright funny.

A few weeks ago, Bronson was making much of the fact that he has his own registered cattle brand _ a bar over the number 11 _ while Crawford doesn't.

That brought a well-prepared response from Crawford, who countered that he, too, has a brand, although it is registered in a company name. It's a configuration of the letters "WJ," he said.

"Anyway, I don't think that's the No. 1 issue in the campaign," Crawford said recently.

Part of the reason for Crawford's apparent success is that he has been planning this a long time _ at least a year. By contrast, the Republican camp lost its best candidate, Lt. Gov. Bobby Brantley. Brantley entered the race and then mysteriously dropped out in December. Later, Brantley's name surfaced in a divorce proceeding, and he admitted having an affair with an employee in the Department of Commerce, an agency he led.



The commissioner of agriculture oversees the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and serves on the state Cabinet. The department's main function is promoting and regulating crop, livestock and dairy production, but it also inspects gasoline and other fuels, runs state forests and oversees fairs. The job will pay $94,040 a year as of January.


BOB CRAWFORD, 42, grew up in Bartow and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in business management. He served in the state House of Representatives from 1976 until 1982, when he was elected to the Senate. He is Senate president. Crawford lives in Winter Haven, owns a real estate and investment firm and manages property, including a 3,200-acre cattle and citrus operation in Polk County. He is married and has two children. ASSETS: Real estate, savings, stock, mortgages. LIABILITIES: Mortgage and business loans. INCOME: Legislative salary, business income, dividends, interest income.


CHARLES BRONSON, 41, is a native of Kissimmee. He received agriculture degrees from Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Ga., and the University of Georgia. He has sold farm products and worked as a rancher and political consultant. Bronson ran for agriculture commissioner in 1986 but lost to incumbent Democrat Doyle Conner. He also has been involved in politics as a Republican committee member in Brevard County and at the state level. He is married, has two children and lives in Satellite Beach. ASSETS: Home, farm land, cattle, retirement accounts. LIABILITIES: Bank loans. INCOME: Ranching, farming.