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MAURICE FERRE AND THE TRICKSTER'S HAND

Few people took him seriously a few years back when controversial Republican operative Roger Stone predicted New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's career would implode. After it did, Stone said he was the one who tipped off authorities to Spitzer's hooker hookups.

I didn't take notorious dirty trickster Stone especially seriously when he predicted months ago that another Democratic U.S. Senate candidate would emerge and very likely beat Kendrick Meek for the nomination. So when former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre jumped in, I wondered about his relationship with Stone. A Miami resident, Stone has a reputation for being in the middle of bizarre political theatrics, from the so-called Brooks Bros. riots of Republican operatives that shut down the Miami-Dade recount in 2000 to the Al Sharpton presidential campaign in 2004.

"Roger Stone is a friend of mine for many, many years, and he has been for many years an adviser. ... He talked to me about this race about a year ago and said you need to keep an eye on this race," said Ferre, who also stressed that Stone is not advising or directly involved in his campaign.

Stone, who has previously worked alongside several of Ferre's Democratic consultants, said the same thing: "I'm a Republican. I'm not switching sides." Stone said he backs Charlie Crist, even if he's lately criticized Crist for running for the Senate and attacked Crist adviser-turned-U.S. Sen. George LeMieux as a sleazy influence peddler.

"Maurice Ferre is a very old friend of mine for whom I have strong regard. I urged him to start looking at this race before Charlie Crist was a candidate. ... I have always believed that Democratic nomination could be worth having for a candidate for broad appeal."

So Stone is not practicing his black arts in the U.S. Senate race, got it? But also remember one of Stone's rules: "Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack."

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Back to school?

Sounds like outgoing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is no longer seriously looking at running for attorney general, and instead is focused on vying for the presidency of St. Petersburg College. But keep an eye on Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi, a fellow Republican, who was in Tallahassee Friday talking to folks about running to be Florida's top lawyer

So far, Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is the only Republican in the race, though former state Rep. Holly Benson of Pensacola is likely to jump in soon, having announced her resignation as secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

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Rubio's gains

When the Florida Chamber of Commerce releases poll results, it does so with self-interest in mind. Last week the chamber released a poll by the Republican firm Cherry Communications concluding that 62 percent of Floridians approve of the governor's job performance. But what had much of the lobbying corps buzzing were numbers not publicly released by the chamber: Among likely Republican voters, 44 percent back Crist for the Senate and 30 percent would vote for Marco Rubio. What a few months ago was a 30- or 40-point lead for Crist among Republican primary voters could be getting closer to single digits.

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Parties rake in cash

The Palm Beach County GOP was the latest countywide group to snub Crist, holding a "straw poll" for the Senate primary last week. Rubio picked up 90 votes to Crist's 17.

From the latest finance reports: The Florida GOP raised $3.75 million and spent $2.49 million. Top donors: Florida Power & Light: $181,000; Florida Medical Association ($150,000); and Dosal Tobacco ($112,000).

The Florida Democratic Party raised $2.2 million and spent $1.5 million in the last fundraising quarter. Top donors included the law firm of Rothstein Rosenfelfeldt Adler ($200,000); Florida Power & Light ($130,000); and Walt Disney World ($110,000).

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On the tube

Check out St. Petersburg City Council candidates Jim Kennedy and Steve Corsetti on Political Connections today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

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Winner of the week

Kendrick Meek. It didn't get much notice, but two very significant names - Sens. Bill Nelson and Harry Reid - were listed as hosts of a Washington fundraising reception for the Democratic Senate candidate. The clear message? The Democratic establishment is embracing Meek as its candidate.

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Loser of the week

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. He raised just $175,000 for his attorney general campaign - less than both Democrats brought in during the same period. That's very weak for a sitting lieutenant governor, and a sign he might even be the underdog in the race as fellow Republicans Holly Benson of Pensacola and Pam Bondi of Tampa eye the race.

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