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Tax dollars help fuel air war in governor’s race

Coming to a television near you: the race for governor.

Democrat Rod Smith and Republican Tom Gallagher became the first candidates for governor to launch television ads in the expensive South Florida media market this weekend, beating their primary opponents in the all-important air war. Smith’s ad was the first 30-second spot of his campaign and Gallagher’s Spanish-language ad was his fifth 30-second spot, but his first in Spanish and first in South Florida.

Gallagher's ad runs only in Miami and features U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. He will launch a second ad later in the week featuring the popular Ros-Lehtinen endorsing him, sources close to the campaign said.

Republican Attorney General Charlie Crist is expected to be next, launching his first South Florida television ad Monday. Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Davis is holding his fire and has no plans for television next week, his campaign said.

The arrival of new ads into vote-rich Miami-Dade and Broward counties is no coincidence: all four of the leading candidates for governor received a hefty check last week from the taxpayers of Florida. The money came in the form of public campaign finance money, doled out to the candidates in a dollar-for-dollar match of every individual contribution they’ve raised up to $250 through June 30. More checks will follow as they raise more cash.

Here’s how the Division of Elections divided the taxpayer dollars: Crist received $1.8 million. Gallagher drew a $1.3 million check. Davis collected $932,000 and Smith received $823,000.