- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

A poll released yesterday shows Florida gubernatorial hopeful Bill McBride has nearly closed the gap with former Attorney General Janet Reno in the Democratic primary.

Miss Reno leads Mr. McBride 34 percent to 31 percent, according to the poll of registered Democrats conducted Aug. 22-25 for the Internet news service InsiderAdvantage by the Marketing Workshop in Atlanta.

The poll has a margin of error of six percentage points, and virtually mirrors a McBride campaign poll of 10 days ago that showed him trailing Miss Reno by six percentage points.

A third Democrat, state Sen. Daryl Jones, had the support of 5 percent of voters in the new poll, in which 30 percent were undecided.

The poll also found that Mr. McBride would fare the best of the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates against incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Among the findings of the poll:

•Miss Reno's negative rating is close to 20 percent, more than twice that of Mr. McBride.

•Mr. McBride's name recognition has risen to over 50 percent, up dramatically from 13 percent in February.

•Miss Reno was the leading choice of blacks surveyed, with 43 percent, compared with 11 percent of black voters who favor Mr. McBride, and 9 percent for Mr. Jones, who is black. The remainder were undecided.

"This newest poll simply confirms what we have seen," said Alan Stonecipher, a McBride spokesman.

Mr. Stonecipher said a new television campaign is pushing Mr. McBride to even higher name recognition, one of his most formidable obstacles in the race against Miss Reno.

The McBride spokesman also said the 30 percent undecided vote could go to either Mr. McBride or Mr. Jones. "Janet Reno is a known quantity, and those undecideds know all they need to about her," Mr. Stonecipher said.

The Reno campaign did not return calls.

Mr. McBride, an ex-Marine and former college football player, has relentlessly campaigned across the state. Some have compared his down-home demeanor to that of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Miss Reno has similarly attempted to conjure the support of the "everyman," touring the state in March in her red pickup truck. But that trip played poorly to small audiences, especially in the conservative northern and northwestern areas of the state.

"I am not shocked that this has tightened up," said Brad Coker, a pollster with Mason Dixon, which is finishing its own poll on the Florida gubernatorial race to be released next week. "And there is certainly enough time for McBride to catch up."

If he achieves that task by the Sept. 10 primary and overtakes Miss Reno, the poll shows the incumbent governor with a 46 percent to 33 percent lead against Mr. McBride, with 21 percent undecided.

Matt Towery, chairman of InsiderAdvantage, which commissioned the poll, said that the new results will certainly present Mr. Bush with an "awakening."

"This has to be concerning [Mr. Bush] at this point," Mr. Towery said. "Just the idea that half the Democratic voters don't recognize McBride and he can still be this close to the governor in the poll."

In a debate Tuesday night, the three Democratic candidates refrained from attacks on each other as they have during the entire primary campaign instead criticizing Gov. Bush for his policies on education and the state's beleagured child care system.

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