Reno falters in Florida race as rival closes gap

By David Usborne
Thursday 05 December 2013 04:20

Janet Reno, a former US attorney general and political veteran, is facing possible calamity as polls show her stumbling in her campaign to beat Jeb Bush, the brother of the US President, to become the next governor of Florida.

Until recently it seemed that Ms Reno, who for months has been criss-crossing the state in a red pick-up truck, was a shoo-in to win a Democratic primary contest on 10 September. But with a week to go, her main rival has pulled alongside and may be about to overtake.

Democrats may be calculating that Ms Reno's opponent in the primary, Bill McBride, stands a better chance of toppling Mr Bush on polling day in November. A first-time candidate, he has attracted more money than Ms Reno as well as important endorsements.

The election season, which kicks into high gear this morning after the Labor Day holiday weekend, will decide who is governor in scores of different states as well as the political balance on Capitol Hill. But no race is likely to get more media attention than this one.

Whoever wins the Democratic contest next week will face a tough task going forward to November. Mr Bush remains in a formidable position, despite hitting several political potholes recently, including a scandal at the state child welfare division, which lost track of hundreds of children in its care.

But the sudden surge of support for Mr McBride – polls show him only about two points behind Ms Reno – is already surprise enough. "It's a dead heat," said Jim Kane, the editor of Florida Voter, which carried out one poll. "This could come down to one of the great upsets in Florida politics."

Mr McBride, a wealthy Tampa area businessman, is confident he has the momentum to defeat Mr Bush. "If you help me on the 10th, we'll slingshot out of this race, and Jeb Bush won't know what hit him," he told supporters on Sunday.

Much is likely to depend next Tuesday on the turn-out. Ms Reno, whose base of support is in the south of the state, will be counting on liberal Democrats as well as the black vote. She faces angry opposition from Cuban-Americans because of her decision as Attorney General in 2000 to return Elian Gonzalez, the castaway boy from Havana, back to his father in Cuba.

Among those seeing a sudden turn of the tide is Chris Korge, a Miami businessman who has raised millions for the Democrats. "Democrats are feeling as though Bush is nervous and feels vulnerable to McBride," he said. "It's almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy".

For Democrats everywhere, beating Mr Bush in November would be revenge for the role he played in the presidential voting fiasco in 2000, when victory in Florida, and therefore the country as a whole, was given to his brother.

Mr McBride has benefited from a $3.5m (£2.25m) television advertising campaign emphasising his business success and background as a former marine who volunteered for Vietnam. Ms Reno's advertising campaign has been flimsy.

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