Name Recognition Givessomehopefuls an Early Advantage; Poll Has Main Support for Betty Castor, Bill McCollum Coming from North Florida

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID DECAMP, The Times-Union

Name recognition is providing the front-runners with much of their advantage in the early campaign for the U.S. Senate, a poll indicates.

Former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood is the clear leader among Republicans, and former state education commissioner Betty Castor leads among Democrats. They're running to replace Sen. Bob Graham, who is retiring.

But a third of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats remain uncertain about who to pick for the Aug. 31 primaries, according to a poll by Research 2000 for the Times-Union and the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida.

Among Republicans, McCollum had 37 percent, followed by former Housing Secretary Mel Martinez at 15 percent. Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd had 6 percent, and state Sen. Daniel Webster 5 percent. Judicial activist Larry Klayman had 2 percent and former New Hampshire Sen. Bob Smith had 1 percent.

"Obviously, he's the guy to beat," Ali said of McCollum in the primary race. "It's his primary to lose, and Martinez is the guy to do it. He obviously would have high appeal to Cuban-American voters."

Among Democrats, Castor won 36 percent followed by Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas at 19 percent. U.S. Rep. Peter Deutsch had 18 percent.

"That's a wide open race," Ali said. "Don't be deceived by the 17-point lead. Basically, Castor's only ahead on name ID."

Spokespeople for Martinez and Penelas said the more voters get to know people, the more they will gain in the race. …