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Florida paper withdraws Martinez endorsement over antigay ad

Florida paper withdraws Martinez endorsement over antigay ad

The St. Petersburg [Fla.] Times has rescinded its endorsement of Mel Martinez for U.S. Senate in the state's Republican primary, to be held Tuesday, accusing him of "hateful and dishonest attacks" on fellow Republican Bill McCollum. In an editorial published Monday the newspaper said it made "an almost unprecedented step" of withdrawing its endorsement because the former Bush cabinet member "took his campaign into the gutter with hateful and dishonest attacks" against McCollum's support of a hate-crimes bill and expanded embryonic stem cell research. "The Times is not willing to be associated with bigotry," the editorial said. The newspaper now endorses McCollum, the former Orlando-area congressman who was defeated by Bill Nelson in the 2000 Senate race. The newspaper cited a Martinez campaign mailer that called McCollum "the new darling of the homosexual extremists" because he supported a hate-crimes bill that included protection for gays. It also criticized a conference call of social conservatives arranged by the campaign in which McCollum was labeled "antifamily." McCollum called on Martinez to repudiate the mailing and the comments during a debate on Friday. In a statement, McCollum said Martinez was "not fit" to represent the party as the Senate nominee. Martinez, the former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary, pulled a television ad criticizing McCollum's views on the hate-crimes bill and stem cell research on Saturday with the approval of Gov. Jeb Bush. Martinez's spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe said the newspaper "didn't endorse Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and can't be expected to endorse a principled conservative." She added, "We have nothing to apologize for. We're highlighting the difference for voters. Mel stands with George W. Bush on the issue of stem cell research, and Bill McCollum stands with John Kerry."

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