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Jewish World Review Sept. 5, 2002 / 28 Elul, 5762

Matt Towery

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Should Jeb really be concerned? | For the next week, the Sept. 10 Democratic primary election for governor of Florida will be a focus of major national attention.

Last week, this column was first to report on an independent poll that indicated political newcomer and Tampa attorney Bill McBride was closing in on former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. The poll, conducted for the Internet news service InsiderAdvantage, was also the first independent survey to show that Gov. Jeb Bush might face a significant re-election battle should McBride prevail in the Democratic contest. But should Bush really be concerned?

The one televised Democratic debate that aired last week should comfort Gov. Bush a great deal. Both McBride and Reno demonstrated a pitiful technical understanding of state government and were shown up by a third candidate, African American State Sen. Daryl Jones. Jones was the only candidate who appeared capable of specifically addressing the issues and, for that matter, the only one who appeared willing to actually debate.

To put it bluntly, a Jeb Bush vs. Reno or McBride debate, at least based on their current level of preparedness, would likely be the equivalent of watching the New York Yankees take on the winner of this year's Little League World Championship.

Yes, the poll did show that Bush could have a tougher than expected race. And Florida at one time was known for electing relatively nondescript dark horses to statewide office. But this is 2002, and the political landscape is significantly different from in the past. Based upon the information contained in the poll, here are some highlights of the intricate political strategies that each candidate must consider in the remaining days before the primary.

For Reno, the issue appears to be that of how to hold on to a one-time lead in the polls, even as money continues to flow to McBride and his effective TV advertising effort. The IA poll suggested that the one group of Democratic voters that heavily favored Reno is African Americans. A better use of Reno's weak political war chest would be to avoid any attempt to counter McBride on TV, opting instead for a significant purchase of airtime on predominantly black radio stations in major Florida metropolitan areas. Such a move would be far more cost-effective for Reno and could motivate the one significant bloc of Democratic primary voters whose turnout could swing the election.

In McBride's case, continued TV advertising and a good debate coach might be in order. McBride's TV barrage, coupled with Bush's recent TV attack ads -- which appeared in the poll to have only boosted McBride's statewide name identification -- have made him a soaring rocket with apparently little to slow him down.

But while the increasingly popular McBride is clearly bright, he seems unsure of himself when it comes to the day-to-day operations of state government. When new candidates find themselves a sudden front-runner, they often choose to adopt the Mohammed Ali "Rope-A-Dope" ploy of simply smiling and repeating tired old phrases and generalities. The best advice for McBride, should he win the primary: Get thee to a collection of experienced state legislators for a long tutoring session in the real-life lingo and operations in Tallahassee.

As for Jones, the strategy is simple. He should just keep on doing what he's been doing so well. It's not his race that makes him an attractive running mate for either Reno or McBride. It's his personality coupled with experience in state government. It was clear in the televised debate that from his ability to recall specific budget numbers to his glib explanation of legislative issues, to his innovative closing remarks, which included a toll-free phone number for his campaign, Jones is set to become a major player in both Florida and national politics.

Gov. Bush's strategic issues are more complex. After all, he has the additional burden of actually being the governor. And incumbency is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that Bush doesn't have to panic over trying to recall budgetary moves or the proper names for state agencies. Unlike Reno and McBride, he knows Florida government from long experience. And despite the fact that the poll showed Bush with only 46 percent of the vote to McBride's 33 percent, with the rest undecided, Bush still enjoyed a 58 percent overall favorable rating among likely Florida voters.

Bush faces a slew of issues that need to be dealt with, including Florida's controversial educational system and the state's inability to protect some children under state supervision. Bush will soon tackle such issues with a set of slick TV ads that will likely help push his poll numbers back up, regardless of which Democrat he faces. And quickly being open and frank about some key issues that currently plague his administration would help make those ads all the more effective.

Is Jeb Bush still the favorite to win in November? Absolutely. With a little humility and some great advertising, he might want to go ahead and challenge the winner of the Democratic primary to as many debates as possible. And pray that Jones doesn't pull a miracle upset!

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08/28/02: The dynamics of defeat? Florida governor's race could have national implications
08/21/02: Unsure Americans
08/15/02: A white, Southerner faces discrimination at sports dome
08/08/02: The hidden story in the Reno v. Bush race
08/05/02: McKinney, 9-11 conspiracy theorist, in fight for political life
07/31/02: GOP quietly shoring-up domestic policies
07/25/02: Media snobs need to look beyond New York, D.C.
07/18/02: A letter to President Bush from Outside the Beltway
07/11/02: Dear President Bush: An effort in futility
07/03/02: Updates and freedom
06/27/02: The coming election: Seeking change for the sake of change?
06/20/02: The inside story re the political future of controversial GOPer Bob Barr
06/11/02: On dirty bombs and scare-mongering: Sometimes a columnist wishes he was wrong
06/06/02: The emerging confused GOPer?
05/30/02: In search of an aggressive GOP leader
05/21/02: Anticipating new terrorism: "Dirty bomb" is no fantasy!
05/16/02: The oddity of Carter's legacy
05/09/02: Replay of 1992 coming?
05/02/02: The hottest family on television might have to abandon the United States
04/25/02: One step ahead of devious minds capable of unthinkable crimes?
04/18/02: Alaskan battleground?
04/11/02: How the peaceful fairways of the world's most revered golf course, may serve as a brilliant strategic battleground the most recent round of "cola wars"
04/05/02: The most likely immediate threat to our national security is being ignored
03/14/02: Clinton's influence looms
03/07/02: Poll turns up surprising views on Bush and more
02/21/02: The recession is over --- so why are the sophisticates still using scare tactics?
02/14/02: This Enron story directly affects our own pocketbooks
02/07/02: The epicenter of quiet but powerful shifts in the American political landscape
01/31/02: A little bipartisan hope
01/24/02: Secrets of the past can often provide guidance for dealing with the future
01/18/02: And I thought explaining Jane Fonda was tough
01/09/02: Dubya falling into Dems' trap?
01/02/02: A few adjustments and 2002 might turn out all right
12/27/01 Rudy, the 'perfect excuse'?
12/19/01 Haig the madman?
12/12/01 That senator with the funny name

© 2001, Creators Syndicate