- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

MIAMI — Tampa lawyer Bill McBride took a strong lead over Janet Reno last night in early results in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary, but the former Clinton administration attorney general refused to concede.
At 11:20 p.m., Miss Reno walked into the Sheraton Bal Harbor ballroom, flanked by a scowling bodyguard and several members of her family.
"Returns are still coming in, and it looks like it's going to be a long night," she said. "I just wanted to come down and say thank you."
With 78 percent of the precincts reporting, Mr. McBride led 49 percent to 39 percent.
In Miami-Dade County, where Miss Reno expected to gain strong support, she had 69 percent of the vote, with 42 percent of precincts reporting. In Broward County, another Reno stronghold, she led Mr. McBride 64 percent to 29 percent, with about half the precincts counted.
Gov. Jeb Bush ordered statewide polls to remain open two extra hours after some precincts opened late due to technical problems.
Mr. McBride has emerged as a favorite after trailing Miss Reno in almost a year of campaigning, both vying to face Mr. Bush in the general election in November.
Last night, as the first election returns came in, aides said Miss Reno took a nap.
Miss Reno asked Mr. Bush around noon that poll closing in Miami-Dade and Broward counties — two of the candidate's strongholds — be extended as voter inexperience coupled with new computer technology caused confusion and led some to abandon their initial efforts to cast ballots.
Some polling sites in South Florida did not open until 9 a.m., two hours late, while voters in some precincts were delayed or asked to return later.
"I am concerned," Miss Reno said after her own vote was delayed because of inexperienced poll workers. "I have said all along that if Florida didn't figure out how to do it, it was going to have grave consequences."
The governor made the call after conferring with Secretary of State Jim Smith.
In the past two weeks, Miss Reno has squandered an April polling lead of 30 points and a face-recognition advantage of almost 100 to 0.Mr. McBride, 57, a Tampa lawyer and former Marine who began his campaign with a full wallet and a country-boy demeanor that wooed voters across the state, has cut into Miss Reno's South Florida base of retirement communities and avowed Democrats.
"We'll do better than expected here in [South Florida]," campaign manager Robin Rorapaugh said. "The state representatives and the local Democratic Party people who have stepped in have been amazing. They want to beat this administration, and they don't want to have to deal with Bush anymore."
The endorsement of Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas — an outspoken Cuban-American Democrat — could deliver a sizable Hispanic voting bloc.
He has hit Cuban-American radio stations with a blitz of interviews backing Mr. McBride as the candidate who will defeat Mr. Bush.
"He is the one who can beat Bush, and that's what we are after," said Mr. Penelas, who also has been mentioned as a potential lieutenant-governor running mate in the event of a McBride victory.
Miss Reno, 64, got in line to cast her ballot at 6:30 a.m. yesterday at a precinct near her suburban Miami home.
The Florida native announced her campaign last September despite warnings from state and national Democratic leaders, many of whom felt that her stormy tenure in the Clinton administration would make her endeavor too difficult.
Democratic leaders wanted someone who could defeat Mr. Bush.The unlikely person with a chance is Mr. McBride, the son of a television repairman.If Mr. McBride wins the Democratic primary, "Jeb Bush needs to be worried," said Guy Spearman, a long-time political donor to both parties and a formidable fund-raiser. "If McBride chooses Alex Penelas as a running mate, that will sweep up the Cuban vote that Jeb is counting on. He will make this a race."
Mr. McBride secured virtually every major endorsement in the state, including the Florida Education Association and the AFL-CIO.
Miss Reno has aimed at black and female voters, holding rallies at Baptist churches and staging one soiree at a South Beach nightclub.
"There was no enthusiasm for Bill McBride nine months ago," said Jim Krog, a Tallahassee lobbyist and former chief of staff to the late former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. "Then he gets the teacher's union endorsement, and everything is changed."

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