Crist, Gallagher trade barbs over ability to lead


Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 11:07 p.m.
Between stops on a campaign bus tour Wednesday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher said his primary opponent, Attorney General Charlie Crist, isn't ready to be governor.
"Charlie Crist is a very nice guy. He's probably one of the nicest guys around and he does a good job of communicating issues . . . that are important to his office," Gallagher said. "I don't think he's ready to be governor."
Asked to elaborate, Gallagher simply said, "I think he's doing fine as attorney general and he's not ready to be governor."
Earlier, during coffee with supporters in Lakeland, Gallagher also said Crist keeps grabbing onto the same position as Gallagher on issues.
"There are things that I thought would be a difference between us and all of a sudden I see my opponent has jumped over to the same place I am," Gallagher said. "This campaign is about ideas and vision and the experience to carry that out."
Gallagher was on the first day of a two-day bus tour between St. Petersburg and Orlando, ending at the Republican Party of Florida's quarterly meeting.
Crist's campaign responded by questioning Gallagher's consistency on issues.
"No other Republican running for governor has a consistent record on school choice and opposing taxes," said Crist campaign spokeswoman Vivian Myrtetus.
"Charlie's not only ready to lead, he is leading. He has a proven record of fighting for the citizens of Florida by keeping criminals behind bars, fighting for educational choice for parents and helping Floridians keep their hard earned money by opposing taxes at every turn."
Crist, 49, served six years in the state Senate before running for Senate in 1998, a race he lost to incumbent Bob Graham. He then served two years as education commissioner before being elected as attorney general in 2002.
Gallagher, 61, served in the state House for 12 years, won three insurance commissioner/treasurer races and served as the education commissioner before becoming the state's first chief financial officer in 2002. He also served a year as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Gallagher has been a candidate for governor during three other elections, including in 1982, when he dropped out before the primary.
On Wednesday, Gallagher talked to students at Clearwater Christian College, toured a business that makes parts for military aircraft and took questions from supporters in Lakeland and Palm Harbor.
At each stop he praised the work Gov. Jeb Bush has done boosting the state's economy and overhauling the school system. He said he would continue in the direction the governor has taken the state, vowing to cut taxes. He also promised to save Bush's school voucher program that was recently ruled unconstitutional.
"If we need a constitutional amendment, I'll go out and lead it to change it so that we can continue this program," Gallagher said. "It means so much to those parents and it's an opportunity for those kids."
The bus tour is usually the type of event that candidates organize closer to an election.
"It's earlier than most people would do it, but I also think it's a great way to build on a grass roots organization," Gallagher said.
The tour began as a poll showed that Democrats might have a slight edge in voter favor 10 months before the election to replace Bush, who can't run for re-election because of term limits. Democrats seeking office include U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and state Sen. Rod Smith.
The poll of 800 likely voters found that 41 percent want a Democrat elected governor and 36 percent want a Republican. Twenty-three percent said they were unsure. It was conducted by Vantage Point Strategies, a firm run by former Republican Party of Florida executive director Geoffrey Becker, and has a 3.5 percent margin of error.
"These results confirm what national polls have been showing in recent weeks - Democrats are leading on generic ballot matchups," Becker wrote in releasing the poll. "The five point advantage is closer than most polls but should still be troubling for Republicans.
Gallagher shrugged off the findings. "It's way, way early," he said. "At this time in a campaign none of these things mean anything. Decisions get made down the road."

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