- The Washington Times - Monday, September 16, 2002

MIAMI As Bill McBride asserts victory in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last week and his opponent Janet Reno fights a battle with eerie similarities to the Election 2000 debacle, the next phase of Mr. McBride's rapid rise to political prominence takes shape.
To start with, he has already secured three public debates with incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush: Sept. 27 in Jacksonville and Oct. 15 and 22 in Orlando.
Mr. McBride clawed his way to the top of the polls by the end of the campaign after being behind by 30 points in April.
He overcame zero name recognition versus Miss Reno's household familiarity. He weathered negative ads from the state Republican Party and the Bush campaign.
And then he won by 8,196 votes. Barring any newly revised numbers, the secretary of state's office said Mr. McBride will be certified as the winner tomorrow at 5 p.m.
Even the Bush camp acknowledged some surprise at the rise of the Tampa lawyer. "We thought it would be close, but not this close," said Todd Harris, a spokesman for the Bush campaign.
Republicans waged war on Mr. McBride before voters even cast a ballot in the Democratic primary.
The battle between the governor and Mr. McBride began in late August, when the state Republican party ran a series of ads at a cost of $500,000 disparaging his management of the law firm Holland & Knight.
Mr. McBride spent $4 million in TV ads, eight times more than Miss Reno. But it was the ads from the state Republican Party that got people talking.
A narrator, speaking under a video of a pair of dancing legs wearing dress pants and wingtip shoes, asserted that Mr. McBride had wavered on some issues. His name appeared on the graphic for the ad. Other ads featured Mr. McBride's face.
"Thank you, governor, for those ads," said McBride campaign manager Robin Rorapaugh. "Those ads were worth a lot, since face and name recognition were the only things that we had been lacking."
Before announcing last September, Miss Reno said, "One of the reasons I'm so carefully thinking about doing this is, when I came home, I thought I'd done my public service. And then I had the sense that things are not right in Florida."
Miss Reno drove her red Ford pickup around the state which measures 1,200 miles from the Panhandle to the Keys in an effort to win support from the common folk.
It didn't work.
"The Reno campaign misjudged the political scenery in Florida," Miss Rorapaugh said. "She hasn't been in Florida for eight years, and being on the ground here is different than in Washington. She is a commodity that is tough to sell."
People were impressed by her honesty but not her message.
"She is too far to the left," said Margaret Paul, a black woman from Broward County. "McBride speaks from his heart and has views that are closer in touch with our people here."
Miss Reno's supporters were hard-line Democrats, of which this state has plenty. But the state's Hispanic population, much of it Cuban, had been alienated when she ordered the Easter 2000 raid to seize Elian Gonzalez and return the 5-year-old to Cuba.
"I think I am the only Cuban in Florida to support her," said Manuel Sanchez, 39, a private investigator in Miami. "And that's because I like her law-enforcement background."
In the end, Miss Reno was left out in the cold by Democratic stalwarts, including her former boss, Bill Clinton.
Even the state's unions, which Miss Reno thought she could bank on, went to Mr. McBride.
"He really impressed everyone. Almost all of our members liked him," said Florida AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin. "We had a better rapport with him than Reno. And he is the person to beat Jeb Bush."


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