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Reno, Democrats make pitch

Gubernatorial candidates and others visit Sims Park in the rain to encourage support for themselves and the party.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Janet Reno said a little rainstorm isn't going to slow her candidacy for governor -- or her red truck.

"It handles extremely well in the rain," she told the Times after a Saturday speech at Sims Park.

Reno, fellow gubernatorial hopeful Bill McBride and nearly a dozen other Democratic candidates took the stage at midday Saturday at the New Port Richey park. This rally, they said, was their chance to energize the staunch local supporters of the Democratic Party.

For a while, the crowd of a couple of hundred people stood on stage with the candidates. Crowded underneath the park's small pavilion was the only place they could stay dry.

"We would have had 1,500 people if it wasn't for the rain," said president John Coyne of the Florida West Coast Council of Retired U.A.W. Workers.

Coming the night after an Orlando fundraiser where Bush brothers George and Jeb pulled in $2.5-million for the Republican Party, both McBride and Reno stressed that events like Saturday's gathering are an integral part of any election. The people at Saturday's rally, Reno said, are activists who will spread their thoughts about her.

"It's important to remember that elections should not be won based on who has the most money," she said.

McBride said he will begin his advertising push in late July.

Reno and McBride were atop a range of candidates seeking positions from attorney general to state representative. While they all agreed that "it's time for change" -- which they began to chant several times -- the day served different purposes for different candidates. For former Pasco Sheriff Lee Cannon, who is seeking a state Senate seat, it was a chance to re-introduce himself to the Pasco voters.

For Kai Rush, a Dunedin High teacher running for state representative in Pinellas County District 30, it was a chance to meet anyone.

"I really need some press," he said. "They let me speak."

Few of the candidates -- McBride and Reno included -- spoke in specifics. Instead they identified the points of disagreement with Gov. Bush and the Republicans. "Senior issues" and public schools were at the top of nearly every candidate's list.

The candidates, McBride especially, walked a delicate ground between pushing his candidacy and supporting the party as a whole. He asked the crowd to support him, if they would, but support Democrats for certain.

"If not me, grab one of the other candidates," he said.

Saturday's weather was just part of the recent gloomy days for the Democratic Party. Republicans control the Florida Legislature and the Governor's Mansion.

"You can't get frustrated," said Louise Hinkley, one of the rally's organizers. "You'd like to, but you can't."

The sun emerged near the end of Saturday's event, after most of the major candidates had spoken and the crowd had largely evaporated. But when will it come out for good for the Democrats?

"November," Hinkley said. "That's when the sunny day is coming."

-- Ryan Davis can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245, or toll-free at 800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

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