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In Graham-less race, jockeying starts

The reality of a wide-open U.S. Senate race without Bob Graham began sinking in Tuesday among Florida Democrats.

A multimillionaire state senator explored getting into the race. Longtime Graham supporters reported fundraising calls from other candidates. And one Democrat released flattering polling numbers.

"It's a whole new world," said state Sen. Rod Smith, D-Alachua. "None of these people are very well-known."

State Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell, a wealthy Fort Lauderdale lawyer, said he is exploring whether to run and asked three Senate colleagues to make phone calls to find out whether he still has time.

"I don't think it's necessarily a closed field, but it's getting late," said Smith, one of those calling.

Campbell has the resources to catch up: He has a net worth of more than $10-million and flies his own plane, a twin-engine Beechcraft jet. If he runs, he said, he would invest "six figures" of his own money, but said he faced the burden of showing broad-based support to avoid being painted as a captive of trial lawyers.

He would be the third South Florida Democrat in the race, further dividing the party's base in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Campbell said all those factors weigh on his mind, but the greatest is money. "The name of the game right now is whether you can raise the money to get your name recognized eight months from now," Campbell said.

Betty Castor set out to prove she already is recognizable.

The former state education commissioner and USF president, who lags far behind two other Democrats in money, released a poll to bolster her contention she's the Democrat to beat.

The poll of 700 likely Democratic voters by Hamilton, Beattie & Staff of Washington showed Castor the favorite of 26 percent of Democrats. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar, who is not running, was second at 16 percent, followed by U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch of Hollywood with 14 percent, and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas at 8 percent.

The remaining 35 percent were undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

Castor's campaign consultant, Linda Hennessee, said the figures were released to counter criticism from Deutsch and Penelas that Castor is not that well known because she has not been on a statewide ballot since 1990. Castor has won two statewide campaigns; Deutsch and Penelas have never run statewide.

"We've been saying that Betty Castor is a statewide candidate, and the others are regional candidates. This is evidence," Hennessee said.

The poll shows Castor an overwhelming favorite in the Tampa area and in North Florida, and a narrow favorite in the Orlando region. Those samples are smaller and have higher margins of error.

The survey was conducted Oct. 3-9. It did not ask about Graham. Hastings is pondering a run. Castor's camp said it delayed releasing the poll until Graham announced his retirement.

The new poll is consistent with previous surveys showing Castor ahead of her Democratic rivals at this early stage.

Castor's pollster, Dave Beattie, said the results would be rushed to potential campaign contributors.

On the Republican side, state GOP chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan said she did not think U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris of Sarasota would run. "I'm going to go with what Katherine said, that she's not running this time," Jordan told reporters in Tallahassee.

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