- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush has opened up a 16-point lead in one poll and a 12-point lead in another as his Democratic challenger Bill McBride struggles to get black Democrats to the polls.

A Zogby poll released yesterday shows Mr. Bush up by 16 percentage points, 55 percent to 39 percent, while a survey yesterday from news Web site InsiderAdvantage found Mr. Bush with a 12-point lead, 50 percent to 38 percent.

"I still think its going to be closer than people think," said Matt Towery, chairman of InsiderAdvantage. "It is a turnout issue now," and while Mr. McBride is pinning his hopes on a heavy turnout, "it still looks like Bush can win that."

Both candidates flew across the state yesterday for a series of quick-stop last-minute rallies in airport hangars and like sites. At a hangar in Orlando, Mr. Bush called Mr. McBride's education platform a series of "vague, empty promises that would cost billions of dollars."

Mr. McBride's 36-hour weekend sweep of southeast Florida with former President Bill Clinton over the weekend drew lower-than-expected crowds.

Still, Mr. McBride yesterday promised his supporters a victory if turnout is sufficient.

"If we get the vote out, we'll win this election," he said at an Opa-locka rally alongside former Vice President Al Gore. "It's our election."

The apparently lopsided race has given way in interest to the voting process itself. Scores of lawyers, federal and state officials join special-interest groups in observing voters today.

Maureen Shea, chief of staff for People for the American Way Foundation, and dozens of other people working in behalf of the liberal group are hanging around Democratic functions to recruit observers.

"We're going to put them in places where there are problems, where there has been reported voter disenfranchisement," said Miss Shea, standing outside a McBride event with a clipboard.

Volunteers for the People for the American Way agree to give an hour of their time for the group, which led the charge of disenfranchisement after the Sept. 10 Democratic primary, which was fumbled in Miami-Dade and Broward counties due to poor poll-worker training and technical glitches.

The biggest fear now among Democrats is that not enough time will exist for all voters to mark their ballots, even though citizens have been able to cast early and absentee votes.

Lines have caused early voters waits of up to two hours in some areas, particularly in southeast Florida. Part of the delay is due to the lengthy ballot, which is as long as 13 pages in some counties.

This is the state's first experiment with early voting, which was part of an overhaul of the voting process approved by the state legislature in the wake of the disputed 2000 presidential election.

In Broward County, where 80,000 of the 978,000 registered voters are predicted to cast absentee or early ballots, the lines continued yesterday.

"I would think they would read the ballot before they get to the booth," noted one Democratic observer in outside the Courthouse complex, one of six locations here used for early balloting. "They have a long enough wait."

Reps. Peter Deutsch and Alcee L. Hastings, both Democrats, threatened legal action over the weekend if Secretary of State Jim Smith would not allow Broward County voters to cast provisional paper ballots if lines are too long today. The two congressmen were denied and settled instead on having poll workers distribute sample ballots to those waiting in line.

Sample ballots have long been available through newspapers and Web sites.

Clarence Purnell of West Palm Beach voted for Janet Reno in September and also cast a ballot in 2000 with no trouble. And he expects no problems today when he votes for Mr. McBride.

"I'll vote for McBride, the president is pulling for him," he said, referring to Mr. Clinton, whom Mr. Purnell saw at a McBride rally Sunday in West Palm Beach. "These problems I don't think they are as bad as everyone says. Just follow the instructions."

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