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Inside Politics
The Morning Grind / DayAhead

Florida Democrats and Reagan's 11th commandment

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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Morning Grind
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation (and the media) continue to mourn Ronald Reagan today, but politics creeps back into the headlines. Especially in Florida, where Al Gore is throwing spitballs in the Democratic Senate campaign-turned-foodfight, and in South Carolina, where four top Republicans face off in a Senate primary today.

The South Carolina Republicans are trying to obey Reagan's 11th commandment (Don't speak ill of a fellow Republican). Florida Democrats apparently feel no such obligation.

President Bush opens the three-day G-8 Summit meeting today in Sea Island, Georgia, and meets privately with the leaders of Russia, Germany, Japan and Canada. The White House says his meetings later in the week will now include the new Iraqi interim President. Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar is among a group of Middle Eastern leaders Bush has invited to a luncheon tomorrow.

President Bush will deliver a eulogy at the funeral service for Reagan on Friday. Bush is not expected to alter his schedule for the G-8 summit, and is not likely to go to California after the funeral.

John Kerry will be in Los Angeles today and tomorrow for his daughter Alexandra's graduation from the American Film Institute and to view her short film, "The Last Full Measure.'' (The film, which she claims is not autobiographical, tells the story of a 9-year-old girl and her father's difficult return home from the Vietnam War).

While Kerry's in California today, aides say he'll likely visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, although details of this visit were fluid this morning.

Meanwhile, a new Gallup Poll out today shows some movement toward Kerry, who led Bush, 50 to 44 percent, among likely voters. When Ralph Nader is factored in, Kerry led 49 to 43 percent, with Nader at 5 percent. The poll shows Bush's approval and disapproval ratings tied at 49 percent. He received troubling numbers on his handling of the economy and Iraq, but better numbers on his overall handling of terrorism.

Florida fighting

But today we're also closely watching Florida, where Gore is wading aggressively into his party's Senate race. Gore told the Miami Herald that Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, who faces a three-way Senate primary, was the "single most treacherous and dishonest person I dealt with during the [2000] campaign anywhere in America."

Gore's comments, delivered via e-mail to the Herald, stem from the lukewarm support that Penelas provided Gore in the fall of '00. After he narrowly won re-election to his own job, Penelas went on a trade mission to Spain in mid-October, skipping several major campaign events with Gore.

Gore praised Rep. Peter Deutsch in the same e-mail, calling Deutsch a good and dear friend. "As the campaign moves forward and when appropriate, I will have more to say about this," Gore wrote. Education commissioner Betty Castor is also running for the nomination and, polls show, is benefiting from remaining above the Deutsch-Penelas dogfight.

Penelas, who spent Monday rounding up support from prominent Democrats, got some from the senator he's trying to succeed. Sen. Bob Graham called him a "quality person" who "has been a Democrat under often difficult circumstances."

"It is not always easy for a Cuban-American to be a vocal Democrat in Miami-Dade County," Graham said.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson chimed in as well, decrying the "slash-and-burn politics" Gore was practicing, which Nelson said has "gotten us to the point that it is causing gridlock in America. ... I am pretty disappointed that Al Gore would say that ... This doesn't help John Kerry in a state that is thought to be split right down the middle."

South Carolina Senate primary

And in South Carolina, three leading GOP Senate candidates recently circulated polling that suggested it was he who would advance to a June 22 runoff with former Gov. David Beasley, the clear front-runner in today's vote. Rep. Jim DeMint is viewed as the most likely candidate to take on Beasley, but both state attorney general Charlie Condon and real estate developer Thomas Ravenel are running strong.

The eventual GOP nominee will face state schools superintendent Inez Tenenbaum, who faces token opposition in the Democratic primary.

  • Also today, we're monitoring Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. This should produce good theater; It's Ashcroft's first visit with his oversight committee in 15 months, and Democrats have complained loudly about his long absence.

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