- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

MIAMI — Bill McBride, the son of a television repairman, is the unofficial victor in Florida's Democratic gubernatorial primary, defeating former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno by 8,196 votes.
Miss Reno, meanwhile, questioned Mr. McBride's victory during a news conference last night, saying only, "If he is the nominee, I will support him enthusiastically," while refusing to concede.
She spent yesterday huddled with her legal team and campaign advisers.
Miss Reno has requested a statewide recount and has not ruled out a legal challenge after some counties experienced voting machine and personnel problems.
Unofficial returns show Mr. McBride had 601,008 votes, or 44.5 percent, while Miss Reno had 592,812 votes, or 43.9 percent. State Sen. Daryl Jones had 156,358 votes, or 11.6 percent.
The results are expected to be certified by the state next week.
Mr. McBride, 57, thanked his "600,000" supporters last evening as he declared himself the winner and said he was ready to take on incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.The campaign is to begin today, although no events have been scheduled at press time."As far as we are concerned, we're planning a general-election campaign," said spokesman Alan Stonecipher.
Miss Reno's campaign team also asked the election-canvassing board in Miami-Dade County for an inspection of voting machines in 81 precincts, some of which malfunctioned under the strain of first-time use and untrained operators.
Reno campaign manager Mo Elleithee said yesterday that "some votes were not counted correctly" and the process involved "inconsistencies."
"Until these questions are satisfied, we are going to stay the course," he said.
Because of tardy or no-show poll workers, some voting locations — primarily in Democratic stronghold counties of Miami-Dade and Broward — opened late on Tuesday, forcing Mr. Bush to issue an order keeping polling sites operating an extra two hours.
The election dispute — an echo of the 2000 presidential vote and its 36-day period of recounts and legal wrangling — has fractured the unified "Beat Jeb" front Democrats formed against Mr. Bush through the primary.State party officials downplayed the dispute between camps, although state Democrat Party Chairman Bob Poe acknowledged that it is "awkward."
"I think Janet is looking at not just her own race, but all of them," Mr. Poe said. "She ran a great race, and I think there is truly a concern for people who were disenfranchised."
The ultimate unifier, he stressed, is Mr. Bush.A state Democrat Party source, though, said the drawn-out primary is hurting Mr. McBride's chance to defeat the governor.
"The longer this goes on, the more people are going to think that Janet had the vote stolen," the source said. "And that means they will be unwilling to vote for McBride."
The strong words coming from Miss Reno's camp have prompted a weekend visit from Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. McAuliffe called the occasion a "unity event" between Mr. McBride and Miss Reno.Just as in 2000, Democrats and civil rights activists placed the blame on the governor and former Secretary of State Katherine Harris, both Republicans.
"If the state could have provided more funding to these communities, we could have had better machines, we could have paid the poll workers more, and we could have more staffers in the elections office," said Democratic state Rep. Ken Gottlieb.
Civil rights groups are gathering their own statements in several counties, just as they did in 2000.
"We are simply not going to accept how this election went," said Sharon Lettman-Pacheco, national deputy field director for the People for the American Way Foundation.
Her group, a left-leaning tax-exempt body, combined with the state office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, dispersed poll watchers in Duval and Broward counties Tuesday.
"People were turned away without being able to cast a ballot. People were given the wrong ballot," Mrs. Lettman-Pacheco said. "And it is absurd to just blame the counties for this. To me, the blame goes to the state."
The spectacle of frustrated Democrats has amused state Republicans, who feel the events give Mr. Bush an edge.
"Isn't it funny that these problems happened in Democratic counties run by Democrats and to Democratic voters?" asked Jean Hansen, former chairman of the Broward County Republican Party.


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