ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 11 (UPI) -- (Part of UPI's Special Report on Election 2002)
ORLANDO, Fla. (UPI) -- Speaker Tom Feeney of the Florida House of Representatives has a solid lead in his campaign for a congressional seat created for him by his fellow Republican state lawmakers, but his Democratic opponent has a lot of money, and -- he thinks -- a lot of mud to sling.
Attorney Harry Edwards of Sanford, Fla., said during Feeney's 12 years in the House he used his influence to get government contracts for his law firm's clients, Yang Enterprises computer company and the Wackenhut security firm.
"You claim it's legal. I think it's wrong, and it certainly doesn't passthe smell test," said Edwards in one of a series of debates.
Feeney denies selling influence and says Jacobs is fighting dirty because he can't find any viable issues. He offered to make public his tax returns for the last 12 years if Jacobs would do that, but Jacobs ignored the challenge.
Estimates of Jacobs' worth range from $$@$!42 million and $$@$!154 million, and he is not shy about spending some of it on television attack ads.
So far it hasn't worked. Polls by the Orlando Sentinel show Feeney is as much as 19 points ahead in the race for Congress. Jacobs is still unknown to 25 percent of the 24th District's central Florida voters. The district around Disney World is mostly middle class.
For those who do know about him, it's because of his high-profile personal-injury law firm, Jacobs & Goodman, and his suit to throw out Seminole County absentee ballots during the 2000 election battle between President Bush and former Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
Adding to his problems is the makeup of the new district, mapped by the GOP-dominated Legislature. It contains 45 percent registered Republicans and 36 percent Democrats.
The debate over issues follows conventional party lines. Republicans have tagged Jacobs as a tax and spend liberal, and Jacobs has assailed Feeney for voting to raise telephone rates.
Feeney talks frequently about the support he receives from President Bush and U.S. Rep. John Mica, Republican from the state's 7th Congressional District. He charges that Jacobs does not support the White House stand on Iraq.
"I wonder if your views on the issue of appeasement are as extremist as PeacePAC, which has contributed to your campaign," Feeney said.
Jacobs answered that he supports the president's attempt to gain U.N. support for action against Iraq.
They both said they favor improving education and transportation but differ on Social Security.
Jacobs said Feeney supports investing Social Security funds in the stock market, a policy he said would lead to lower benefits and higher taxes.
Feeney says he would provide younger workers with private investment accounts, but does not support any cut in benefits or increase in taxes.
(Reported by Les Kjos in Miami)