- The Washington Times - Monday, October 18, 2004

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Nearly every day, Republican Mel Martinez and his top advisers get the results of their daily tracking polls that show what voters think of the Senate campaigns of Mr. Martinez and Democrat Betty Castor.

So far, Sami al-Arian is winning.

Mr. al-Arian’s name is not on the Nov. 2 ballot, but the former University of South Florida computer science professor is proving to be a major winner for the campaign, Mr. Martinez’s pollster says.

Voters are seeing ads produced by Mr. Martinez’s campaign that suggest Mrs. Castor was too weak in dealing with Mr. al-Arian when, as president of USF, she found out he was being investigated over ties to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization.

“Every night our tracking is asking the question, ‘Who do you think is better on terrorism?’ and Martinez is ahead 2-1,” said a Martinez campaign insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As of Friday, Mr. Martinez had aired five different ads, three of them hammering Mrs. Castor on terrorism. But lately, Mrs. Castor has begun firing back more aggressively, trying to turn around the issue and make it a liability for Mr. Martinez.

Mrs. Castor’s campaign had six ads, three dealing with Mr. al-Arian. Her fiercest shows Mr. al-Arian posing with President Bush and accuses Mr. Martinez of “allowing” Mr. al-Arian to campaign with Mr. Bush in 2000 when Mr. Martinez was a Florida campaign co-chairman.

After that ad began running, Mr. Martinez expressed outrage and Gov. Jeb Bush jumped into the fray Friday with a TV ad of his own, saying Mrs. Castor’s ad had “crossed the line.”

Meanwhile, a poll of likely voters released Friday shows the two tied at 47 percent, with 6 percent undecided. The poll of 801 persons conducted Oct. 12-14 by Strategic Vision has a margin of error of three percentage points.

Mrs. Castor also is counting on help from Emily’s List, a group that says it supports pro-choice Democratic women. Emily’s List is spending up to $1 million on ads during the final two weeks of the campaign questioning Mr. Martinez’s opposition to embryonic stem cell research and increasing the minimum wage.

For now, however, Mr. al-Arian will stay at the forefront of the campaign. “There is no reason to let it go,” the Martinez adviser said. “It’s working.”

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