Even before the attacks, Martinez understood he would probably split the vote in Hialeah, where an overwhelming majority of the electorate is Cuban-American and Republican. So he focused on introducing Martinez to Anglo and non-Cuban Hispanic voters in the Broward portion of the district, which includes Pembroke Pines and Miramar. Registered Democrats and Independents outnumber Republicans there.

Dario Moreno, director of the Florida International University Metropolitan Center, a local think tank, says the English-language TV spots raised doubt about Martinez, particularly among Anglo voters in Broward. Though Martinez beat Diaz-Balart there, it was close. The ex-mayor fared worse in that county than the incumbent's marginal 2004 challenger, Frank Gonzalez. "The ads were also effective with young Cuban-Americans and Independents," Moreno explains. "Lincoln was able to change the dialogue."

The Metropolitan Center conducted its own poll this past October 21, which mirrored the actual results. It showed the incumbent garnered 42 percent of Independents' votes, 16 percent better than Martinez. Among Cubans, Diaz-Balart scored a stunning 70 percent of those sampled.

Ana Carbonell, Diaz-Balart's campaign manager and a member of his congressional staff, says her man always led. She scoffs at the August poll that showed Martinez with a lead. "Our internal polling had us consistently ahead by at least 14 points," she says. "It was these pollsters who wanted to create this clash of the titans. Being the Democratic mayor of a Republican city looks good on paper, but it was not the reality on the ground."

Indeed, Martinez won only one precinct in Hialeah. "From day one, this was going to be a race about contrasts," Carbonell adds. "When people realized who Raul Martinez is and what he has done, they did not feel comfortable voting for him."

Martinez, who has not ruled out running for elected office again, acknowledges he was unable to surmount the unrelenting mugging of his character. "It was the pounding I took for three months," he says. "It wasn't easy to overcome it, and I sensed this."

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