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    Reno takes her campaign to the pivotal I-4 corridor

    The Democrat makes her pitch, without specifics, for health care, smaller class sizes, teacher pay, and fiscal responsibility.

    By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 20, 2002

    CLEARWATER -- Janet Reno continued a five-day tour of the Interstate 4 corridor Monday, seeking to energize voters in Bill McBride's back yard.

    Reno, the apparent front-runner in the Democratic gubernatorial race, spoke to about two dozen residents and employees of Jasmine Court, a Clearwater housing project, where adult education and transportation are key issues.

    She then addressed a lunchtime crowd of 50 at nearby Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, where women in white terry-cloth robes spilled into the lobby to gawk as she passed.

    The settings were worlds apart, but her message was the same: Expanded health care for children, smaller class sizes, increased teacher pay, a better system to care for the growing elderly population.

    Still, she said she cannot detail where the money for those initiatives would come from until she gets elected and "I can see what they've done to the state of Florida."

    She lambasted the Republican-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush for failing to provide adequate funding for education and health care and for patching together a budget that counts on millions of dollars that likely won't be there.

    She also warned of a looming fiscal crisis.

    "What I will do first is eliminate waste," she said. She then would end sales tax exemptions for goods and services that serve special interests, not the public interest.

    "The next step, as dollars are needed and we understand the scope of the deficit of the present administration, is working with the Legislature to determine what taxes would have the best chance of passing and be the most fair and the least regressive," Reno said.

    That seemed to satisfy many in the audience, but Ed Richards of Oldsmar wanted more details. He noted that McBride, a Tampa lawyer, has pledged to raise cigarette taxes by 50 cents per pack to help pay for about half of his $1-billion education plan.

    "She gave halfway answers. The voter needs to know the full impact," he said.

    Bush spokesman Todd Harris said governing is about balancing programs and dollars, and Reno is unrealistic in her approach.

    "Fiscal irresponsibility is advocating for program after program without having the slightest clue how you would actually pay for it," he said.

    Reno has enjoyed a commanding lead in opinion polls, but McBride's team says internal polls show he has gained on her in North and Central Florida. The Democratic primary is Sept. 10.

    After leaving Safety Harbor, Reno taped two television interviews before attending a fundraiser at the Vinoy Sunset Ballroom in St. Petersburg. Nearby, McBride held his own fundraiser at Perch, a swanky restaurant on Central Avenue.

    The Interstate 4 corridor is considered a crucial area for candidates because of its concentration of swing voters. Reno was scheduled to stop in Lakeland, Orlando and Volusia County, ending Thursday in Daytona Beach. On Sunday, she visited several African-American churches in St. Petersburg. She also spoke to residents at Park Place of Carrollwood and the Grande Court in Tampa.

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