- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. Janet Reno yesterday made a last sweep of her home base of South Florida in an effort to pull out of an 11th-hour slump that finds her trailing surprise giant-slayer Bill McBride in the polls.

The former attorney general appealed to retirees in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton to help her defeat Mr. McBride in today's Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The winner of the contest will face incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush in November.

"The people of Florida want a governor who calls it like she sees it," Miss Reno said to a crowd of 150 supporters in Century Village in West Palm Beach, one of a handful of places she also visited last September before announcing her candidacy.

"The people of Florida want someone who will stand by her decisions," said Miss Reno, clad in a magenta blouse and a black skirt.

She outlined her platform, a political stew of more money for education "our public schools are foundation of our democracy" a promise of lower-cost prescription drugs for the elderly, and a more environmentally friendly governor's mansion.

She also addressed her health, which has prompted questions from even her followers.

"People say, 'Janet, how is your health?'" Miss Reno said, her hands shaking at times, a symptom of the Parkinson's disease she has had for several years.

"I know my hands shake, but as the lady in Quincy said, 'I know her hand shakes but I care about her head, and her head seems just fine,'" she said, referring to a town near Tallahassee.

West Palm's Century Village one of three retirement communities by that name in South Florida is a 10,000-person development that has embraced Miss Reno's liberal politics and policy proposals.

The race is now too close to call, with the most recent Mason-Dixon poll showing Mr. McBride ahead 44 percent to Miss Reno's 42 percent. He has overcome the obstacle of almost zero name recognition to erase Miss Reno's one-time lead of almost 60 percentage points in the polls.

Many people gave Mr. McBride, a Tampa lawyer and political neophyte, no chance in the race.

But through the summer, he has won the support of the key central Florida counties and the more conservative northern Florida region.

An ad campaign from the state's Republican Party has also boosted his name recognition and informally named him as the candidate to beat in November.

Even in the staunchly liberal retirement communities of South Florida, Mr. McBride has cut into some of Miss Reno's support.

"These retirement communities are key to win because we vote all the time," said Deerfield Beach Commissioner Amadeo Trinchitella, a key organizer of Democratic support.

After calling Miss Reno "the next governor" last fall, Mr. Trinchitella has thrown his support to her opponent. That support means Mr. McBride's name will be on the important "palm cards," endorsements given out as voting guides in his community.

"I love Reno, but I have to go with someone who can beat Bush," Mr. Trinchitella said.

Miss Reno never once referred to her opponent during yesterday's swing through her native South Florida. The region is reliably Democratic, and the party generally draws three in 10 of its votes there each election.

"The big question on people's minds right now is: Can I beat Jeb Bush?" Miss Reno told the 60 persons at Casa del Mar in Boca Raton. "We can beat Jeb Bush, and we will win tomorrow."

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