Early voting kicked off Monday in the state’s primary elections, giving Floridians more than two weeks to pick gubernatorial nominees and decide whether Rep. Katherine Harris should be allowed to continue a Senate campaign that many fellow Republicans oppose.

“For all intents and purposes election day is already here,” said Albert Martinez, a spokesman for state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, a Republican candidate for governor. Gallagher is trailing Attorney General Charlie Crist in the polls for their party’s nomination.

Rep. Jim Davis a Democratic candidate for governor, voted in his hometown of Tampa and praised the early voting system, saying it should help restore voters’ confidence.

“Early voting is a very powerful, simple way to make sure your vote is counted,” said Davis, who faces state Sen. Rod Smith.

Early voting in Florida was expanded after the botched presidential election in 2000. Officials hoped having many polling sites open early would help keep lines shorter on Election Day, Sept. 5.

Harris spokeswoman Jennifer Marks said the congresswoman planned to vote on primary day. “Our campaign is full-steam ahead with all the get-out-the-vote efforts,” Marks said.

Polls show that Harris, who as secretary of state was a key and polarizing figure in the 2000 election, is leading a four-candidate race for the GOP Senate nomination, but she’s far behind Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. She has stayed in the race even though party leaders have urged her to give it up, several of her top campaign aides have quit and a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to bribing another congressman says he gave her $32,000 in illegal contributions.

Martinez said early voting is especially important in the Republican primary because up to 25 percent of people usually vote early or by absentee ballot.

Martinez speculated the primary could have low turnout because it follows the Labor Day holiday.

Secretary of State Sue Cobb has also worried that few people are paying attention to the races, but on Monday she said she was encouraged that Miami-Dade County had received four times as many requests for absentee ballots this year as it had in any previous election.

A stream of early voters showed up in Jacksonville on Monday morning, but Escambia County resident Greg Fink was the only person waiting when a downtown Pensacola early voting site opened.

“I wanted to make sure I got it out of the way,” the Republican said.


Associated Press Writer Brian Skoloff in West Palm Beach contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press