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The best campaigners of 2006

Depending on your perspective, it was a gathering of champion mudslingers or champions of democracy.

About 400 of the nation's top campaign strategists attended the annual conference of the American Association of Political Consultants in Miami Beach this week.

"National Pollie Awards'' went to George LeMieux, campaign manager for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist; Dawn Laguens for commercials that helped elect Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and Montana Sen. Jon Tester; and to Peter Brodnitz for his polling in Virginia on behalf of newly elected Gov. Tim Kaine and Sen. James Webb.

LeMieux won "Player of the Year,'' an award previously given to President Bush's political guru, Karl Rove. Irony of ironies: LeMieux made the call to keep Crist away from the unpopular president when he rallied in Pensacola on the eve of the election.

"This was the Super Bowl of campaign consultant events,'' said Al Maloof, managing director of GJB Consulting in Miami. "The brightest of political minds were here.''

Click here to see Ritter's ads and here to see Tester's spots.