Wide-Open Race to Succeed Harris In Congress

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SARASOTA -

One of the most wide-open races for Congress in recent memory is taking place in Sarasota, where seven people are vying to replace the outgoing Representative, Katherine Harris.

It looks like deja vu all over again for Democratic voters. Once again, Jan Schneider is facing off against banker Christine Jennings - just like in the last two elections.

And the absence of the divisive Harris has opened up divisions in the ranks of Republicans who would like to succeed her. Much mud is being thrown - especially by the top two contenders, millionaire businessmen Vern Buchanan and Tramm Hudson.

SOUND: Sound from Vern Buchanan commercial: Tramm Hudson talks about trust and integrity, but he broke his word. Now he's running a negative campaign full of lies and distortion against Vern Buchanan, when he promised he wouldn't.

Buchanan has accused Hudson of being an executive of a bank that misstated its earnings - even comparing it to Enron. Hudson says he had nothing to do with the filings.

Hudson fired back, accusing his opponent of unethical business practices. His web site includes lists of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings.

SOUND: Sound bite from Tramm Hudson's commercial: He's a retired Army lieutenant, founder of a community bank and one of Florida's strongest business leaders. An elder of his church. And a strong supporter of secure borders. Tramm Hudson is a hard-working, honest man. Who is committed to carrying these values to Congress.

Those 'values' include a lot of negative campaigning. Hudson's web site says, 'The truth is never negative.' In it, he accuses Buchanan of 'continuing a pattern of intimidation and threats.'

The three other candidates who have stayed away from this fray are Mark Flanagan, Donna Clarke and Nancy Detert. Flanagan is former chairman of the Manatee County Republican Party. He has come across as the most conservative candidate, campaigning for less government and as pro-life and anti-tax.

Clark and Detert appeared earlier this week on the Sandra Washington Show, on Comcast Cable.

During the show, Clark has served as a state Representative the past six years, said all health care expenses should be tax-free. She also opposes taxing Social Security benefits.

CLARK: I believe all Americans would benefit if we could keep more of our own money, if we have a strong military, if we have affordable, effective education, if we have quality health care, and if we have government that does only those things that we cannot do for ourselves.

Nancy Detert has lived in Venice since 1978. She has served on the Sarasota County School Board, and was elected as a state Representative in 1998, serving eight years.

She has received the endorsements of most newspapers and says her platform is to bring 'real-world' experience to the job in Washington. Detert wants prescription drugs to no longer be allowed to be advertised on TV.

DETERT: It creates a level playing field for all the pharmaceutical companies. It's a savings for them. They're still competitive with their colleagues, because none of them would be allowed to advertise. And you can't go buy those drugs over the counter anyways.

Detert also says small businesses should be able to bargain for cheaper prescription drugs by pooling their resources through their professional organizations.

On the Democratic side, Schneider and Jennings are a pair of familiar faces for voters in Tuesday's primary.

Schneider has faced Harris several times, coming closest in the last election, losing by 5 percentage points. On the Sandra Washington Show, she focused on senior issues, in what is the second-oldest Congressional district in the nation.

SCHNEIDER: We're the Democrat that's running for moral values, family values, Democratic values. To me, fighting for seniors, for senior's rights and interests is a moral value, a Democratic value, a family value.

Schneider supports importing prescription drugs from Canada and banning commercials that drives up the price of prescription drugs. But she has also raised only a quarter of Jennings' money. That may not be surprising, in that Jennings's history includes being president of Sarasota Bank.

The former Republican has also picked up national Democratic support. She is one of three congressional candidates in Florida that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has picked for its Red to Blue Program. It supports candidates running in what are considered vulnerable Republican areas.

JENNINGS: The number one issue and the number two issue is health care and obviously, being a banker of 40 years, it is the financial condition of this country. And I'm most concerned about the deficit, and I have many ideas that I'd like to propose to do about the deficit.

Jennings has also engaged in much negative campaigning against Jan Schneider, who beat her in the last Democratic primary two years ago. Jennings says it's not negative;' she's merely pointing out flaws that could affect her opponent's ability to perform in Washington.

Tuesday's primary is winner-take-all, with no runoff. That means if the Republican candidates split the ballot, one of them could win it with only 20 percent of the vote.

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