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U.S. Senate contenders launch new TV ads to attract voters

Florida's U.S. Senate candidates, seeking to recapture the attention of voters distracted by hurricanes, have launched TV ads with sharply different messages.

Democrat Betty Castor criticizes Republican Mel Martinez for supporting "tax cuts for the rich" while opposing a higher minimum wage. Martinez, President Bush's former U.S. housing secretary, showcases an endorsement by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in an ad focusing on terrorism, which Martinez considers the No. 1 issue in the race.

Martinez introduced the ad Tuesday in Washington at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which paid for the spot. He also attended a fundraiser hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and planned to attend a breakfast fundraiser today hosted by Maryland's Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

He also was forced for the second time to clarify actions by his campaign.

Appearing live on CNN's Inside Politics, Martinez called it "inappropriate" that his campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Coxe, used the term "armed thugs" last week to describe the federal immigration agents who seized Elian Gonzalez in 2001.

"I never said that," Martinez said. "It was something that was put out by someone in the office and immediately withdrawn as we saw what had happened. That is not accurate."

Days before the Aug. 31 primary, a Martinez campaign mailing accused GOP rival Bill McCollum of catering to the "radical homosexual lobby." Martinez said he did not see the flier before it was mailed. McCollum refused to endorse Martinez until he received an apology.

A CNN-USA Today Gallup poll conducted Sept. 18-22 showed Castor leading Martinez among likely voters, 51 percent to 45 percent, with 4 percent undecided.

As a rule, front-runners avoid negative ads, but Castor went on the offensive for the second time since she won the Democratic nomination with her new TV ad.

Castor's ad says Martinez supports a new Medicare prescription drug benefit that means "higher costs for us and higher profits for drug companies."

The former Florida education commissioner also criticized Martinez for supporting President Bush's tax cuts and opposing a measure on the Nov. 2 ballot to raise the minimum wage by $1, to $6.15 an hour.

Coxe criticized Castor for basing her ad partly on a Martinez fundraising letter that said he would support President Bush "every chance I get!"

Martinez's new ad, shot in Orlando, features Giuliani on camera and shows the candidate standing in the rubble of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when he provided money and moral support to Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki.

"Mel Martinez is the clear choice. Mel Martinez escaped communism and knows what it is like to live without freedom," Giuliani says in the ad. "Mel Martinez will fight every day to preserve the freedom we love."