- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

ORLANDO, Fla Gov. Jeb Bush, faced with a dwindling lead in the polls, continued to press his Democratic opponent for specifics on a plan to improve the state of Florida during a one-hour radio debate yesterday.
Bill McBride, the Tampa lawyer who bested Janet Reno in last month's Democratic primary, stood his ground and voiced his support for existing gun-control laws and allowing homosexuals to adopt.
Mr. Bush appeared fluid and relaxed, while Mr. McBride, who has acknowledged his public-speaking skills are lacking, gripped his lectern and, near the end of the meeting, lost his temper.
Mr. Bush questioned why his opponent, who was managing partner for the law firm of Holland & Knight from 1992 to 2001, would support eliminating tax breaks for some businesses but not lawyers.
Mr. McBride, flushed but smiling, shot back to Mr. Bush,"You should raise the level of your game a little bit."
The two also agreed on several points, most pointedly on gun control.
"I've always supported a state's rights on this issue, and we have plenty of gun laws on the books," Mr. McBride said.
The Democrat said he supported a 1998 amendment that closed a loophole for sales at gun shows.
Mr. Bush, who has supported his state's gun laws, replied in agreement and sarcasm: "I have heard an epiphany here. I am pleased that [Mr. McBride] is holding a common-sense position."
The governor also stated an adamant opposition to homosexual adoption. The issue arose in Florida recently after Mr. Bush, unaware of the presence of a reporter, noted that he had some "juicy details" about the foster parents of a child who was missing.
The details, it turned out later, were that the parents were reported by law enforcement to be a lesbian couple.
Mr. Bush apologized yesterday for the remark "I did not mean any harm by my remarks" but said that permitting homosexual couples to adopt "would not solve the foster care problem in our state."
"I do believe that if you are going to have permanence, it should be with a loving couple that is a man and a wife. It is the law of the land and I believe that personally."
Mr. McBride said that "no group of people would be discriminated against it is not the American way, it is not the right way."
Thirty-one radio stations carried the debate statewide while 200 other people mostly individuals invited by the parties or campaigns attended the event in a Universal Studios soundstage.
In a five-minute press briefing after the event, Mr. Bush said that he was aware that national Democrats saw the state governor's race as setting the table for a victory in the presidential election of 2004.
"I don't know that much around here, but you go to the other side and you've got [chairman of the Democratic National Committee] Terry McAuliffe, the son-in-law of the finance chairman for Bill McBride, and Mr. McBride is going to have lunch with Bill Clinton, and I assume that is for fund raising rather than a social get-together. These people are motivated for the 2004 election to raise money," he said.
The finance chairman is Richard Swann, a lawyer in Orange County, and is Mr. McAuliffe's father-in-law.
The two gubernatorial candidates tangled as a new Zogby poll shows the governor's lead has ebbed to 3 percentage points, 48 percent to 45 percent. The poll of 500 likely registered voters has an error margin of 4.5 percentage points.
A Zogby poll on Sept. 21 showed Mr. Bush 10 percentage points ahead of Mr. McBride, while a poll last week from Insider Advantage had the governor ahead by 5 points.


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