- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

MIAMI As former Attorney General Janet Reno fades in the polls in her gubernatorial primary bid against Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, state politicos are asking: Where is all the Democratic kingpin support that a name such as Reno should attract?
Bill Clinton has failed her, note some. Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas another Democrat who carries a following of almost 100,000 Hispanic Democrats in this area announced last week that he would back Mr. McBride. Even former Clinton Cabinet colleague Donna E. Shalala, now president of the University of Miami, has not supported Miss Reno.
"I would think that Bill Clinton would be helping her at the very least," said Michael Rios, a former police officer and Democratic Party member in Palm Beach County. "I can't see why there hasn't been more help for her."
One state Democratic official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, offered an explanation: "McBride and his wife are friends of Bill. They donated to both of [the Clintons] campaigns and they are very well known to them."
Records show that since 1996, Mr. McBride's wife, Alex Sink, has contributed thousands of dollars to Democratic heavyweights, including Mr. and Mrs. Clinton.
This earned a visit from Mr. Clinton last year to the Central Florida home of McBride pal and backer Richard Swann.
McBride campaign officials deny that the visit was held to raise funds, unlike a similar event two years ago for Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate bid.
Miss Reno has lost the lead of 60 percentage points she held in polls earlier this year, when the field of Democrats challenging incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush numbered six and Mr. McBride was an unknown.
While some had expected Miss Reno's liberal credentials to garner support from labor, it is Mr. McBride who now carries the union label, including endorsements by the state teachers union and the AFL-CIO.
Miss Reno's campaign did not return calls.
Even if she wins, the lack of support from big names is a glaring hole in her political endeavor, one that could be traced to the Elian Gonzalez episode in 2000 or the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas.
"She was pushed into Elian by Bill Clinton, and now he is nowhere when there is fallout from that," said Jay Fernandez, a Republican grass-roots organizer in this city's Cuban community.
He noted the endorsement last week from Mr. Penelas, a slap in the face to a woman who, early in her campaign, was confident of support in the region that elected her as Dade County state attorney five times.
"The mayor did the right thing," Mr. Fernandez said. "He knows what the community's sentiments are. But I would imagine she was looking for this support in her own back yard. But it is payback time now."
Mr. Penelas said his endorsement of Mr. McBride was simply a matter of backing the best person for the job.
"[McBride] can beat Bush," Mr. Penelas said. "I don't know if she was counting on my support, but I have to endorse the person who is best for the party."
He noted that when Miss Reno announced her candidacy last September, it was against the wishes of the state Democratic Party. He said that could have affected the decision of any Democratic giants to get involved.
The party was worried about Miss Reno's contentious past as attorney general.
When it was decided that 6-year-old Elian belonged in Cuba with his estranged father rather than here with his relatives, Miss Reno became unpopular among the formidable Cuban population in her home state.
When 63 persons died many of them women and children during the 1993 Waco episode, she was looked at even by some Democrats as the culprit behind a violent assault on a religious group.
"Early in the campaign, she was discouraged from running by the top national party leadership," said state Rep. Tim Ryan, who has two McBride signs in his front yard. "They didn't think that she could overcome some of the past. It should have been a warning sign to her to sit this out."
And as for the big-gun Washington support, Mr. Penelas questioned whether its absence was actually a handicap.
"There's a lot of baggage there," he said. "Maybe that's not the kind of help Reno would need."

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