Jewish World Review August 28, 2002 / 20 Elul, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The most recent independent poll in the Florida governor's race, released exclusively to this column, reveals the surprising news that Gov. Jeb Bush has less than 50 percent of the vote against a political newcomer. Now the question is whether this newcomer will get the chance to take on Bush.
The poll shows that among likely voters in Florida's Democratic primary, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is in a statistical dead heat with that newcomer, Tampa attorney Bill McBride. The independent survey was conducted August 22-25 for the Internet news service InsiderAdvantage by The Marketing Workshop. Other recent polls for InsiderAdvantage by the same firm indicated that two nationally prominent and controversial Georgia members of Congress, Republican Bob Barr and Democrat Cynthia McKinney, would likely lose their respective primary battles, which they did last week.
The Florida poll, which surveyed both the Democratic primary and different general election match-ups, shows one fall scenario in which Bush would earn 46 percent of the vote, McBride 33 percent, with 21 percent undecided. While the Bush lead is sizeable, political experts generally consider any incumbent under 50 percent in a re-election race to be vulnerable. The poll shows Bush topping 50 percent against both Reno and a third Democratic candidate.
But why is McBride, a relative unknown, outperforming the well-known Reno? Call it nothing less than a Democratic Party coup d'etat. In early February, this column reported that McBride appeared to be winning strong support from the Sunshine State's longtime Democratic establishment, particularly those close to former President Bill Clinton. Even at that early date, the father-in-law of Clinton confidant and Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe was serving as the top fund-raiser for the Bill McBride campaign.
Since then, a parade of veteran Clinton backers have quietly worked to ensure that the upstart McBride earned the endorsements of political and labor groups, including Florida's powerful teachers' union. Partly because of that support, McBride has raised more money than Reno and appears to be benefiting from millions of dollars in "independent" expenditures on his behalf.
While McBride has invaded the expensive TV airwaves of Florida, Reno -- whose campaign appears cash-strapped -- has been forced not only to watch her opponent upping his name ID, but also the incumbent Bush assisting him by employing the unusual political strategy of unleashing a round of pre-general election attack ads aimed at McBride.
In recent weeks, McBride, a Vietnam veteran and former managing partner of a Florida-based national law firm, has made great gains against what was once reportedly a 20- to 30-percentage point deficit in the Democratic polls. Plus, important voter blocs, especially in the critical South Florida areas of Palm Beach and Broward counties, have chosen to support him over Reno, who is a native of nearby Dade County.
Democratic insiders have suggested that their support for McBride is based primarily on their belief that his more politically moderate image would give Democrats a better chance against the popular Bush. The fact that some of the most powerful state and national Democrats would abandon the better-known Reno is evidence of just how badly the party wants to avenge the bitter loss of Al Gore to George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida presidential election.
Is Janet Reno's candidacy dead? Not necessarily. In the Democratic race, the poll still showed her with a lead of 34 percent to McBride's 31 percent, with 5 percent going to a third candidate, State Sen. Daryl Jones, and the rest undecided. Many political observers believe that Reno's strong populist stand on issues important to Florida voters -- especially the environment -- could allow her to pull through should voter turnout be low in the primary. The survey also indicates that Reno still enjoys significantly higher name ID than McBride.
But with that fame comes a higher percentage of voters who have an unfavorable opinion of Reno. And despite the Bush campaign ads attacking McBride's alleged poor business skills, McBride's name ID seems to be growing with very little accompanying negative views about him.
The poll's survey of likely Democratic primary voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent. The general election poll, which includes all likely voters, has a margin of error of only 4 percent.
Both parties see Florida's 2002 gubernatorial election as a critical test for the 2004 re-election bid of Gov. Bush's brother, President Bush. And while the poll shows that Jeb Bush might face stiffer competition from McBride, even those Democrats closely aligned with this "quiet coup" admit that they still view a November victory against Bush as a long shot.
But with McBride's low polling negatives, if he can defeat Reno and continue to build momentum, a fall upset is certainly possible. And a Bush defeat in November could have major implications for the 2004 presidential race. It would demonstrate that the Bush name is not invincible. It would also hand control of Florida's critical elections process back to the
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