Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2002 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Last week, as President Bush winged his way toward a campaign stoop for his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, it appeared that Jeb was faring better than some gave him credit for in his bid for re-election.
But based on the newest poll conducted for the Internet news service InsiderAdvantage by the Marketing Workshop, it looks like the race may have taken a dramatic turn -- one that could have major implications for both the president and the national Republican Party as they look past this year's election to 2004.
While the cumulative InsiderAdvantage tracking poll -- which has surveyed Florida voters every day since Oct. 2 -- has shown an ever-dwindling lead for Gov. Bush, the survey's latest weekly "horserace" numbers show an unexpected development: Democrat Bill McBride now leads. The weekly survey, which was conducted Oct. 14-19 and has a margin of error of 6 percent, shows McBride with 49 percent, Bush with 45 percent, with 6 percent undecided.
Clearly something has caused the bottom to drop out of the Bush campaign. The two prior weekly totals had mirrored each other, and the cumulative poll showed Bush ahead. The most recent poll shows that while many voters say they still don't know much about McBride, most of them are apparently deciding to vote for Bush's "unknown" opposition, rather than for the incumbent governor.
Part of the Bush decline may be attributable to the collective impact of brutal media stories that have attacked him on an assortment of issues. Private conversations that consisted largely of off-hand and possibly joking comments have been converted into a parade of press stories about Gov. Bush's "devious" plans to circumvent, if necessary, a proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict classroom sizes in public schools.
Add to this the Jeb Bush administration's ongoing woes with its alleged mismanagement of the state's child welfare system. This political blunder has drawn criticism even from some of the nation's most powerful conservative talk show hosts. Plus, there are personal and legal issues facing the governor's daughter as she battles with drug addiction, a sad tale that has become a tabloid circus.
These and other perceived problems apparently converged in the minds of many Floridians last week. A large portion of them -- many not even knowing about the sometimes bumbling McBride and his tenuous grasp of the issues -- decided to throw caution to the wind and vote for the unknown candidate. A catalyst to that public opinion convergence has likely been precipitated by the high degree of national attention the race has started to receive.
While at least one recent poll still shows Bush with a lead, even its latest numbers indicate a rapidly tightening race.
A Jeb Bush defeat in Florida would suggest to the nation -- and to the White House -- that the Bush name does not guarantee political invincibility. Absent concerns about homeland defense or Iraq, a popular candidate -- be it Jeb Bush in 2002 or George W. Bush in 2004 -- can quickly tumble if more pedestrian issues, like education or the economy, start edging to the fore.
Just a year ago, Gov. Bush's popularity was sky-high. Now, he is fighting for his life against a man who might arguably be termed a mediocre opponent propped up by money from labor unions and the national Democrats.
Nevertheless, the InsiderAdvantage daily tracking poll clearly demonstrates what might be the one political maneuver that could save Gov. Bush. And it involves a potentially tough choice for the president.
Last week, President Bush campaigned for Jeb in Florida, and the governor's polling numbers subsequently (and temporarily) rose.
It is becoming increasingly clear that -- fair or not -- Jeb Bush has become the whipping boy of the national Democrats and everybody else who holds him responsible for Al Gore losing the state of Florida in the 2000 presidential election. At the same time, the president is enjoying almost unheard-of favorable ratings; his mere appearance on behalf of a candidate can make the difference.
If these trends continue, the president might have to make Florida his second home as Nov. 5 approaches. Such a strategy could cost Republicans elsewhere and be considered foolish and selfish. On the other hand, the nation might read excessive presidential support for Gov. Bush as admirable "brotherly love."
Moreover, President Bush may be forced to heavy-handedly help win the Florida governor's race for Jeb -- a race that's staring to look eerily like the tight presidential race of 2000 -- to maintain the public perception that he himself is strong as he gazes at 2004.
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10/18/02: Weighing election scenarios