updated 10/17/2006 10:22:25 AM ET 2006-10-17T14:22:25

Gov. Jeb Bush had important advice Monday for state Rep. Joe Negron, who is facing the difficult task of attempting to keep disgraced Congressman Mark Foley's seat in Republican hands.

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Meanwhile, Florida Democrats asked a state court Friday to block Election Day notices at polling places that would inform voters in Rep. Mark Foley's district that his GOP replacement on the ballot will receive his votes.

Foley had been a shoo-in for re-election before he resigned from Congress on Sept. 29 after being confronted with sexually explicit instant messages he wrote to male Congressional pages.

Foley's name is still on the ballot, though, and election supervisors want voters to know that votes for Foley will be given to state Rep. Joe Negron instead.

Democrats say that would be electioneering, which is illegal under state law.

Veteran advice
"Wave, Joe," Bush uttered as he and Negron stepped into a crowded room that roared when they saw the governor, leaving Negron standing a short distance behind him without too much notice.

Few people in Charlotte County had heard of Negron before Foley resigned over lurid messages he sent to teenage pages, but Republican leaders are pushing hard to educate voters about him and let them know that checking Foley's name on the ballot is really a vote for Negron.

"If Joe Negron is not elected, a Democrat you don't know will be, and he'll be part of a majority, possibly, that has Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as it's speaker" Bush said to boos. "This is a huge race."

Foley's name will remain on the ballot, but votes for him will count for Negron in District 16, which stretches over eight Counties from Palm Beach to the gulf coast. Democrat Tim Mahoney was thought to have little chance to win before the Foley scandal, but suddenly is the favorite in the race. The scenario has put a focus on the race that has sent national resources to a district that was an afterthought a few weeks ago.

Before the event at the Port Charlotte Cultural Center, Bush attended a fundraiser for Negron. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman also will campaign with Negron.

2006 key races

Court battle
"We think the issue is very simple. What they propose to do is electioneering, and the law says electioneering is not allowed within 100 feet of a polling place. Simple as that," said Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski.

Jenny Nash, a spokeswoman for the Florida secretary of state, said electioneering includes any notice or advertisement that informs voters about a specific candidate but does not necessarily ask voters to cast their ballots for that candidate.

She called the Democratic Party's motion for an emergency injunction "a reach." Democrats filed the motion in state court in Tallahassee.

The notices also would let voters know that a vote for Tim Mahoney, Negron's Democratic challenger, will count for Mahoney and a vote for unaffiliated Emmie Ross will count for Ross.

"There is plenty of support in Florida election code for both the department and the supervisors to educate voters and to provide them with necessary information," Nash said. "We feel it's a commonsense approach that in order to avoid confusion at the polls, voters should be educated to any last-minute changes to the ballot."

Negron called the Democrats' request "a desperate attempt to try to confuse voters."

"I can't imagine why anyone would oppose voters knowing how their votes will count," he said. "But you know what, voters are a lot smarter than the experts give them credit for."

Registered Republicans in the district outnumber Democrats 202,500 to 170,369, according to the latest state figures. Foley had been seeking his seventh term in Congress.

Jeb Bush: Rock star
Despite the court action, it was easy to see Monday who the main attraction was.

Bush and Negron toured the county community center. When they popped into a room where a group of seniors were dancing to big band swing, a swarm of women quickly rushed around Bush and started dancing, forming a circle that Negron had to break into.

"He's a rock star. I'm one of the extras in the entourage," said Negron, who comes across as mild-mannered and quiet, features that are exaggerated in the presence of one of the state's most popular and easily recognized politicians.

Negron's remarks were typical of an introduction rather than those of a candidate at the center of a nationally watched race three weeks before an election that could determine the balance of power in Congress. He talked about being a Little League coach, gave the ages of his three children and recalled his election to the state House in 2000.

"This election is not a referendum on Mark Foley," Negron said.

But having Foley's name on the ballot will make it tough, said Donna Clark, who has called local Republicans for the Negron campaign.

"A couple of them said it would be hard for them to mark the ballot," she said. "But they said he was a good man and they would vote for Joe."

And she acknowledged that she didn't really know Negron just more than two weeks ago, but has learned about him quickly.

"I think he's awesome. He's as honest and kind as can be," she said. "I don't penalize Joe."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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