- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

Janet Reno is trailing incumbent Florida Gov. Jeb Bush by 18 percentage points in a poll released yesterday, capping a difficult week for the gubernatorial candidate whose fainting spell raised questions about her health.

"Among Democrats, there has been a nagging fear that she would not do well," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida at Tampa. "I think the campaign took a nose dive with the fainting spell and the polls that show her lagging. It looks like a campaign on life support."

Brad Coker, a pollster with Mason-Dixon, said Miss Reno's campaign for the Democratic nomination has hit a brick wall.

"Her numbers in July weren't good, even with Bush presiding over a lagging economy and a lackluster legislative session," Mr. Coker said. "Now we've come six months down the line and his numbers have increased and hers have dropped.

"If she couldn't pull in 50 percent numbers in July, when he was on the rocks, she just isn't going to do it."

The Mason-Dixon poll shows Mr. Bush leading the former attorney general by a 58-36 percent margin, an increase from a July poll in which he led 54-39.

Miss Reno, 63, who collapsed on stage Wednesday during a speech at the University of Rochester in New York, spent an hour with the press upon her arrival at Miami International Airport Thursday, explaining that her fainting spell, captured on videotape and broadcast widely, was caused by the hot lights on the podium.

Miss Reno, 63, has Parkinson's disease and promised at the outset of her campaign that she would make public her medical records and assessments. She fainted four times when she was attorney general, twice in public.

"Janet is feeling fine, and she will continue her schedule as planned," said campaign spokeswoman Nicole Harburger. Miss Reno is scheduled to appear in Tallahassee today.

Political analyst Rick Fogelsong said the incident raises issues of Miss Reno's health all over again.

"It may be unfair and this very well could be an isolated incident," he said. "But politically, her health is already an issue and this could damage her candidacy."

Countered Alice McBrayer, chairman of the Lee County Democratic Party: "It will be an issue for the Republicans to make. But not for Democrats."

A source close to the campaign acknowledged that Miss Reno's campaign has had a sluggish start, and that its momentum was halted by the September 11 terrorist attacks. She had announced her candidacy just six days prior and had begun campaigning before the attacks.

Miss Reno has failed to capture the state's organized labor vote and is unlikely to garner the support of the AFL-CIO's 500,000-strong membership, a high-ranking Democratic state party official said.

The AFL-CIO's officials would not comment on who it would endorse on March 3, but loss of the support would be a substantial blow to the campaign.

Her closest opponent for the nomination, Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, already has gained the support of both the Florida Education Association (122,000 members) and the Service Workers union (9,000 members).

Mr. McBride, who trails significantly, also has substantial clout in Washington through his generous financial support to the campaigns of big party names such as Tom Daschle, Carl Levin and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Monte Friedkin, chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, said that of the 17 to 20 Democratic clubs in his county, ''they are split on who they would support in the primary."

"Right now, the women would go for Reno and the men for McBride. But remember one thing: "It's early."

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