- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2001

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is expected today to take her first major step toward seeking the Florida governorship.
The 63-year-old Democrat would enter a hotly contested fray that includes former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson and several other prominent state Democratic figures. They will face off in a September 2002 primary election.
The Democratic nominee will almost certainly face incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.
Miss Reno is expected to file paperwork that would allow her to begin raising money for a campaign. She attended a Democratic picnic yesterday in the Miami area, where she lives.
Miss Reno stressed yesterday that she is still considering a run for the governorship.
"I will make a decision very shortly," she said in an interview with The Washington Times.
But her expected announcement that she will begin raising money for a gubernatorial bid is being closely watched by many in the Democratic Party. Several Democrats interested in running have said they would not make a formal decision until Miss Reno made an announcement.
The candidates have crisscrossed the state since June, listening to voters and lining up support. Miss Reno traveled in her now-familiar red pickup truck, often chauffeured by her brother, Mark Reno.
Polls show her leading other Democratic challengers but trailing Mr. Bush in the race.
An August appearance at the King's Point Democratic Club in heavily Democratic Broward County drew "a wall-to-wall crowd," said club President Marc Sultanof. "At that time, it seemed as if she was preparing to become a candidate. I had an indication that she would do it."
A Reno candidacy would be somewhat of a coup for state Democrats, he added.
"There is no question of the attractiveness of Janet Reno as a candidate," Mr. Sultanof said.
Still, many Democrats fear a Reno candidacy. She has a reputation for being a staunch liberal on many issues, and her close ties to the Clinton administration threaten to undermine her political popularity in conservative north Florida, where even some Democrats often vote Republican.
In particular, some Democrats fear that Miss Reno's contentious decisions as attorney general, in which she ordered the assault at Waco, Texas, in 1993 and her approval of the seizure of Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives, will hurt her in a general campaign.
Carol Roberts, a Palm Beach County commissioner and outspoken Democratic leader, has thrown her support behind Mr. Peterson.
"She is an incredible woman, but an election should be about the issues of Janet Reno and Jeb Bush," said Miss Roberts, who became a national figure during last year's postelection recount in Florida.
"It shouldn't be about Elian and Waco. I'd rather see someone in there who doesn't have to defend a record."
Her concerns are echoed by Juanita Geathers, secretary of the state Democratic Party.
"I think the Waco situation and her support for the president when others were asking for a full investigation during the Monica incident are going to come up and the Republicans will attack … if she eventually goes on to run for governor," Miss Geathers said.
She added that Florida's political geography, which is an ideological maze, could also play against Miss Reno.
For example, South Florida, with its heavily Democratic counties, would be a natural base of support.
"But in the north part of the state, she isn't as well known and would have trouble getting votes," Miss Geathers said.
Nonetheless, Miss Reno, who served as Dade County state's attorney for 10 years before joining the Clinton administration, would be the most prominent name on a crowded ballot.
Other likely Democratic contenders are Mr. Peterson; state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami; Rep. Lois Frankel, of West Palm Beach; Bill McBride, a Tampa Bay lawyer; and Mayor Scott Maddox of Tallahassee.
The Florida governor's race is important to both state and federal politicos, since many feel that even a close race in Florida would hurt President Bush's chance to win the swing state in the 2004 election.
Jeb Bush, who is considered more politically centrist than his brother, has angered Democrats by doing away with affirmative action in favor of his own plan called One Florida to achieve greater diversity in schools and the workplace.
He is also perceived by some as being part of a Republican cabal that helped his brother achieve the necessary votes in Florida in last year's election to capture the presidency.
Mr. Sultanof summed up the feelings of many in the state Democratic Party as they set their sights on the governor's mansion: "Mr. Bush has got a lot to think about."


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