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D: Leaders tell GOP prepare to work

It's going to be a tough election year, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite told fellow Republicans on Saturday.

After complimenting the fashionable attire at the Lincoln Day Dinner, she told the crowd, "I hope you have a lot of work clothes at home. You're going to be working hard this year to elect Republicans."

Speaker after speaker at the West Citrus Elks Lodge echoed Brown-Waite's message, instructing party members to ignore negative press about the Bush administration and hold fast to Republican values. The dinner, attended by about 230 people, was organized by the Citrus County Republican Executive Committee.

Chris Gangler, the committee's vice chairman, opened the night with some partisan humor.

He said the U.S. Senate had to be evacuated early Saturday when a white powdery substance was delivered to Capitol Hill. Luckily, no one was hurt.

"It turned out to be another delivery of Ted Kennedy's margarita salt," he said.

More jokes followed, but many speakers had more somber messages.

Brown-Waite described her recent trip to Iraq with a congressional delegation, criticizing "armchair liberals" and emphasizing U.S. security.

"The soldiers totally believe in what they're doing," she said.

State Sen. Nancy Argenziano said when Americans saw the twin towers fall, they realized how vulnerable they were.

"If anyone in this room doesn't understand that Saddam Hussein means us harm, there's something loose up here," she said.

Only Republicans can adequately protect the country from this imminent threat, Argenziano said.

Under former President Bill Clinton, "our men and women were on food stamps," she said.

To keep security high, taxes low and government small, Republicans must actively support their candidates, speakers said.

Brown-Waite said she traveled with U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, throughout Iraq and was consistently impressed by her vigor.

During the trip, Harris "was dressed to the nines in 5-inch stilettos," Brown-Waite said. "She's a better woman than I."

Harris is the party's best shot at taking that seat from a Democrat, Brown-Waite said.

Keynote speaker Charles Bronson, commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, also voiced support for Republican policies but warned the audience against letting fear over security issues lead to prejudice.

Recent objections to Dubai Ports World, a United Arab Emirates company, in managing cargo terminals at U.S. ports were probably misguided, he said.

"There are good and bad in every society," he said. Those from United Arab Emirates "have been some of our greatest allies."

County Commission Chairman Gary Bartell told the audience to remember the Republican Party's place in society as the upcoming election approaches.

"We represent the people. We live with the people," he said. "We're a cross-section of what the U.S. is all about."