The candidates for U.S. Senate crisscross the state in the final days of the campaign in which the Republican front-runners continue to clash.
BY MARC CAPUTO
As the nasty exchanges over abortion and gay rights subsided, the front-running Republicans in the U.S. Senate race found one last area of disagreement Sunday: Democracy in Cuba.
Standing at the Versailles Restaurant with exile community leader Rafael Diaz-Balart, former Congressman Bill McCollum bashed opponent Mel Martinez on Sunday for his ''support'' of the Varela Project, a nascent Democracy movement in Cuba sanctioned by Fidel Castro.
McCollum, speaking in the county that could give Martinez the edge if Hispanic turnout is heavy Tuesday, called the Varela Project "a terrible undemocratic policy that I would never support.''
But Martinez said he doesn't favor the Varela Project. He said his opponent was misrepresenting a White House-sanctioned speech in which he spoke favorably of the movement but failed to condemn its founder, who opposes the embargo against the island.
''I have the same position as McCollum,'' Martinez said. "The Varela Project is not the answer to Cuba's problems.''
Martinez said the attack was just one in a line of unfair broadsides from McCollum's campaign, which has criticized him for his past leadership of the trial-lawyer lobby, his past contributions to Democrats and his tenure as President Bush's housing secretary.
A radio commercial that labeled his tenure as a Cabinet member ''failed'' was condemned Saturday by the White House at the urging of Martinez's campaign.
The condemnation followed Gov. Jeb Bush's request, at McCollum's urging, that Martinez pull a television commercial that implied McCollum favors gay marriage, which he doesn't.
Martinez said he thought the ad was accurate, but yanked it off the air to project more unity heading into the winner-take-all primary.
Martinez, running as a Christian conservative, began his day at the South Biscayne Baptist Church in storm-wrecked North Port, where he garnered applause for his stand against abortion and urging Christians to vote.
McCollum didn't get the same opportunity to address congregants when he attended Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville.
According to a poll conducted over the weekend and released Sunday by InsiderAdvantage, a firm affiliated with online news site Sayfie Review, Martinez jumped 6 percentage points, making him dead even with McCollum.
The poll of 400 likely Republican voters has an error margin of 5 percent, meaning the race is likely a dead heat.
InsiderAdvantage didn't bother polling the Democratic race, where former Education Commissioner Betty Castor is so far out front that she's barely conducting the frenzied city-to-city stops required in the final days of a campaign.
Pembroke Pines Congressman Peter Deutsch, running a distant second in most polls, was busy churning out the Democratic base, appearing at the Mount Hermon AME Church in Fort Lauderdale with U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar and at Kings Point in Tamarac with U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, and addressed a crowd of Jewish supporters with a speech about Israel.
Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, running a distant third, spent the day monitoring Hurricane Frances and getting ready to attend the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony.
Herald staff writers Beth Reinhard and Michael Vasquez contributed to this story.