The decision by the Bush White House to push former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez into the race for the Florida U.S. Senate seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham was partially vindicated this week. Martinez easily defeated former Rep. Bill McCollum, 45% to 31%, in a seven-man Republican primary field.
But there is a possible downside. Hard feelings in the McCollum camp could hurt Martinez in the November general. Martinez campaigned hard as a social-issues conservative, attacking McCollum for supporting a federal hate-crimes law backed by gay activists. McCollum called Martinez’s criticism on this front the “politics of bigotry and hatred,” and refused to say whether he would support Martinez in the general. Martinez, a Cuban-American who could help turn out votes for Bush in that community, will face off against Democrat Betty Castor, a former state education commissioner and university president.