None of the leading Republican presidential candidates and only two of the five U.S. Senate candidates agreed to speak at the three-day Florida Tea Party Convention at the Volusia County Ocean Center....
Liberals say the depiction of tea partyers as "extremists" - especially on issues such as immigration - is prompting candidates to keep their distance.
"A lot of politicians are worried about being painted by that association, especially as we get into the real meat of the election cycle," said Mark Ferrulo, executive director of the liberal, Tallahassee-based Progress Florida....
A whirlwind of controversy in the past two weeks could have played a role, after the convention invited anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller to speak and an American Muslim civil-rights group, the Council of American-Islamic Relations, protested.
"They [CAIR] put pressure, I think, on some of the state officials, and I think some of the state officials, in their judgments, they declined to go," VanLandingham said. "Their [the officials'] reasons were 'prior commitments.' "
Geller writes an anti-Islam blog called Atlas Shrugs and leads an organization called "Stop Islamization of America." Last year, she received wide attention - and stoked bitter anger from American Muslim groups - with her harshly worded opposition to a proposed Muslim community center a few blocks from ground zero in New York City.
Last month, CAIR sent letters to Florida politicians urging them not to attend the convention if Geller was on the schedule. And when Rubio and Scott indicated they would not come, CAIR issued a news release thanking them.
Geller said CAIR tries to get her appearances canceled or boycotted wherever she goes. But she said she is certain her appearance in Daytona had nothing to do with all the declined invitations.
"The politicians decided not to participate before this controversy began," she said in an email.
But CAIR is not so sure.
"In other states, elected officials have pulled out and do not want to be on the same stage as her," said CAIR media-relations director Ahmed Rehab. [Read Full Article]
Scott Powers | Orlando Sentinel