- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. Bill McBride is definitely one of those "glass is half-full" kind of guys.
The man many party insiders believe is the Florida Democrats' only hope to evict Jeb Bush from the governor's mansion recently found himself with a meager 18 percent polling figure in his bid for the party's nomination.
Somehow, he found sunshine in that showing. "I think that's pretty good," Mr. McBride said.
His simple response is indicative of a man who is not wholly suited to politics but who is becoming aware that straightforwardness has its virtues.
With his plain-spoken bonhomie, towering presence and soft Southern drawl, he should be anything but the man who considers himself just another ex-Marine centrist Democrat with a bundle of money.
But since November, the 56-year-old son of a television repairman has found his polling numbers increasing as he battles former Attorney General Janet Reno for the chance to face off against the incumbent governor.
She now tops him 48 percent to 18 percent for September's primary, according to a poll commissioned by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times.
But her poll "negatives" continue to hover around 50 percent, dimming her prospects for victory in the general election and giving many Democrats second thoughts.
"We want someone who can beat Jeb," one state party leader said. "And he is the most likely to do that."
Also recently, a coalition of party activists in strongly Democratic Palm Beach County announced its support for Mr. McBride, citing doubts about Miss Reno's electability in November.
Well aware of this, Mr. McBride thought about the poll, creased his forehead and said with a smile, "I haven't even been doing very much, and I'm moving up."
Indeed, his debut polling numbers last summer were in the single digits.
It's an interesting position for Mr. McBride, who was, until last year, a managing partner of Holland & Knight, the state's largest law firm. Politics have always been a strong force in his life, and when he married Adelaide "Alex" Sink 15 years ago, politics became even more important.
She is well-known in Florida as a political heavyweight behind the scenes and a generous giver to Democratic causes and candidates, including the feminist campaign group Emily's List and such lawmakers as Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney of Georgia, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California and Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri.
Mr. McBride is a centrist, conceding that he once even voted for Richard Nixon, but his wife counters that with her heavily liberal causes.
"I really don't consider Emily's List to be an extreme cause," she said. "Its only criteria is to elect pro-choice candidates. And some of them are very moderate."
Since 1997, she has donated more than $67,000 to national campaigns and is hustling almost as much as her husband in an effort to get his name out to voters, to whom the Florida media are mostly giving a daily dose of Miss Reno.
"[Alex] can only give so much to me," Mr. McBride said. He is leaving it to his 6,000 closest friends to do the rest, noted one confidant, who said there are plenty of open wallets in the state for the candidate.
Mr. McBride's proficient fund-raising abilities raised eyebrows early in the campaign, and his connections are not limited to his wife or even his friends. The financial director of the McBride 2002 campaign is Richard Swann, brother-in-law of Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. McBride and he are old friends, said Mr. Swann, a lawyer in the Orlando area. He nonetheless expects the questions about their alliance.
"Terry is totally uninvolved," Mr. Swann said. "But I don't think there is any doubt that if it looks as if [Miss Reno or Mr. McBride] are in a good position for the general election, they will get strong support."
Connections and cash, it seems, blossom around the candidate. The state AFL-CIO recently announced its endorsement of Mr. McBride, a backing that gives him a strong base for the Democratic primary in most of Florida's 67 counties.
Mr. McBride figures it's just his past paying him back.
"I've always given money and helped candidates," Mr. McBride said, sliding into a booth at a diner in Tampa's Palma Ceia neighborhood, where the couple lived until a few years ago, when they bought a lakeside home in Thonotosassa, a rural farming community about 15 minutes outside the city.
"I started with [former Florida Gov.] Rubin Askew when I was a young lawyer, and I was a delegate. Then I got involved with Gary Hart's campaign."
He became pals with Sen. Bob Graham. He went to Democratic conventions, state and national. He even knew Miss Reno, meeting her first when he was a young lawyer 30 years ago.
His decision to run for governor came several months after the contentious 2000 recount battle in Florida, an event that he said didn't affect his decision to run.
"I think more people went to the polls to vote for Al Gore than for George Bush," Mr. McBride said, measuring his words. "But to argue it on and on is like arguing a call in a basketball game after the game is over."
Instead of Democratic rancor as motivation, it was simply the idea of replacing Jeb Bush. And he never thought it would be such a pleasant endeavor, at least to this point.
"I enjoy the campaigning, and right now I'm speaking at every little event there is," he says. "My phone rings at 7:30 in the morning and I keep going. Today I'm speaking to a group around here. Tomorrow I'm going to Fort Lauderdale to speak to some trial lawyers. I really take anything I can get, just to talk."
He has it all mapped out: Win the key swing vote in central Florida, take extra care to court the Cuban-American vote in order to make a decent dent in Miss Reno's South Florida base and nab as much of northern Florida as possible.
"I know that nobody knows who I am. They will. It will just take some time."
His cellular phone rings again when a sheriff and friend calls to ask him how the campaign is going. The glass is half full.
"I'm doing better and better," Mr. McBride says, and he believes it.

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