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Florida Senate Campaign Begins Anew in Wake of Hurricanes

The ads also seem designed to address areas of perceived weakness in each candidate.

Ads released by Republican candidate Mel Martinez tout his rise from a teenage Cuban immigrant to a member of the president’s cabinet.

“He escaped communism as a young boy, and fell in love with America,” an announcer says in the ad. “No special privileges, just hard work. A community leader, little league coach to the president’s Cabinet.”

The theme of the ad is one Martinez has often used in campaign speeches. The message is expected to energize the mostly Republican Cuban American community in South Florida and campaign strategists hope it will resonate with middle class voters in the state’s I-4 corridor.

Political analysts have said the I-4 region, which cuts east to west across the central part of the state, is home to the voters who will likely decide both the presidential and Senate races.

St. Petersburg Times political writer Anita Kumar noted that new Martinez ads do not have as many references to President Bush as his primary ads.

Current Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, who will retire after his current term, has criticized Martinez for close ties to the president, saying Martinez would not be an independent voice in the Senate and would vote in “lockstep” with the president.

Martinez has said he counts the president as a friend but will remain independent as a senator.

Democratic candidate Betty Castor has also launched a series of ads in I-4 media markets.

One recent ad says Castor is strong on defense and has a solid record of supporting veterans. The ad also says Castor will work for more benefits for veterans and military families.

“Castor will fight for Florida’s military bases and a strong defense,” an announcer says in an ad titled “Strong.”

During the rancorous Democratic primary race one of Castor’s opponents accused her of being lax on national security for her handling of a professor accused of terrorist ties when she served as president of the University of South Florida.

Castor has said she did everything she could legally do to discipline the tenured professor.

Castor plans to release a new round of ads this week that will compare her stances with Martinez on the issues, the St. Petersburg Times reported Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Martinez campaign has cast doubt on a scheduled debate with Castor.

Martinez has said he will only participate in debates “facilitated” by Florida-based journalists.

The two candidates are tentatively scheduled to meet Oct. 18 in a debate hosted by WFLA in Tampa but moderated by NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert.

A Martinez spokesman said Martinez has accepted all debate invitations but would prefer a Florida moderator, and that it is up to the station to choose. The campaign has not said whether it will skip the debate if WFLA sticks with Russert.

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