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Agriculture candidates still tussle over $220,000

The latest skirmish in the race for agriculture commissioner is a tug of war over $220,000.

Incumbent Democrat Bob Crawford got the money about two weeks ago after he won a court ruling against Republican opponent Jim Smith. But an appeals court said last week that Crawford was not entitled to the money. Crawford vowed to appeal and kept the money.

On Tuesday, the secretary of state's office _ which Smith heads _ wrote Crawford's attorney, Karen Gievers, demanding the money be returned.

Smith, who was campaigning in the Panhandle on Wednesday, said he was concerned that Crawford might have already spent it.

"If he's done anything, he's bought TV time," Smith said. "He ought to be able to write a check, and it ought to be very easy."

Gievers said Crawford will not return the money until the final appeal is resolved.

"The order isn't final," Gievers she said. "The ruling doesn't require the return of the funds."

The court rulings were over whether Smith had exceeded the $2-million cap for the agriculture race because he had spent $2.2-million in his gubernatorial campaign. The district court said he had; the appeals court disagreed.

Crawford spokeswoman Michelle Lagos questioned the fairness of Smith's actions as a candidate and secretary of state.

"He's using his office of secretary of state to influence this election and put his opponent at a disadvantage. That's a tremendous conflict of interest and an outrageous abuse of power."

Smith scoffed at that suggestion and said Crawford had "been thoroughly trounced" in court.

In another development in the race Wednesday, Crawford received an endorsement from the Miami Herald.

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