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  • What's a 'Yellow Dog' to do this election year?

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    What's a 'Yellow Dog' to do this election year?

    By DIANE ROBERTS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 1, 2002

    To paraphrase (liberally) the great novelist Henry James, it's a complex fate to be a Florida Democrat.

    Democrats still hold the edge in voter registration: 43 percent to 39 percent. It was a Democrat, Al Gore, whom the majority of Florida voters wanted to become president in 2000. And, despite the mayor of Inglis banning Satan from her city limits, despite those Cuban guys down in Miami who stand ready to invade Havana as soon as the CIA buys them some dry ammo, and despite the heritage-not-hate types in Lake City who raised a Confederate battle flag the size of Delaware on I-75, polls show this is a moderate state: generally pro-choice, pro-public education, pro-civil rights, pro-environment. A state that would seem to favor Democrats.

    Just a couple of years ago the streets were full of Democrats madder than the proverbial wet hen about Jeb Bush's high-handed decree ending affirmative action, not to mention the disputed presidential vote recount. Now it's just before the primary, and Democrats don't know which way to look. If this were France, we'd be talking existential angst. Because this is Florida, it's more like a bad hangover.

    Not only will that Yellow Dog not hunt, all he does is lie there, curled in the fetal position, trying to figure out which Democrat has the best shot in which race.

    Democrats won't even challenge for the essential office of CFO. Tom Gallagher, a man who was considered a lightweight until Charlie Crist came along, walks into a job that will set him up nicely for a gubernatorial run in 2006.

    In many legislative and congressional races, the Democratic candidate is more of a ritual sacrifice than a serious opponent. Sure, the Republicans got to cut districts to suit them, ones that take in all known owners of Eddie Bauer Jeep Cherokees and Lee Greenwood CDs, but come on. Katherine Harris? This is the woman who was in charge of Florida's elections but couldn't be bothered to read Florida's elections statutes. She "forgot" to resign when the law said she had to, but she'll waft into Congress on a cloud of Miss Dior.

    In the race for attorney general, Buddy Dyer and George Sheldon, the pick of the Democratic litter, are smart lawyers and fine people, but they don't, as we say in college football, dominate. By running for every office he can just about spell, Charlie Crist, the Republican frontrunner, has vast name-recognition. And in a state where people pay more attention to an oil stain allegedly resembling the Virgin Mary than they do elections, name recognition counts more than qualifications (see K. Harris, above).

    The gubernatorial primary is even more painful. Many Democrats are in jaw-clenched torment. McBride or Reno? Reno or McBride? Which one might, just might, have a chance against the Jebbernaut?

    It comes down to a head-heart thing for this Yellow Dog. My heart says Reno. It's time this state was run by a woman. Especially a grown-up, brave, decent woman who took responsibility for the mess at Waco and for sending Elian Gonzalez back where he belonged without whining. Especially since Jeb Bush chose a man to head the Department of Children and Families with mind-bogglingly backward opinions on the place of women in society. I'd pay cash money to hear Jerry Regier quote Scripture on womanly submissiveness to Janet Reno.

    But, great woman that she is, Reno is a lackluster candidate with an amateurish campaign. So my head says McBride. Though there are still too many attention-challenged Florida voters who have never heard of him, the Bush Machine is worried enough about him to have produced those childish attack ads. (What's with the governor's obsession with tap-dancing? a thwarted childhood ambition to be a Broadway hoofer?)

    More important, McBride, a Vietnam vet who looks as plausible in hunting gear (important for the white guy vote) as he does hanging out with children in a classroom, is energetic and intelligent and uncowed by Jeb Bush's sneering, his big money, and his White House traveling show.

    So what's a Dem to do? The debate on Aug. 27th didn't help clarify matters much. Reno, McBride and Sen. Daryl Jones (who, while admirable, isn't a serious contender) embraced public schools, protecting the environment and taking care of the elderly. They also embraced each other with a fervor that probably made Jerry Regier flinch. You'd be hard put to find a pine needle's worth of difference in their platforms.

    Whoever wins the primary should have plenty to say about the corporate tax cut which the governor finds preferable to funding reduced class sizes, his cozy relationship with the rapacious developers of St. Joe, and his bait-and-switch games with environmental protection, not to mention his obviously empty promises to "fix" social services in Florida. No question: the Democrats are not covering themselves in glory this election. But even without a superstar candidate on the level of Lawton Chiles, McBride shows there's life in the old dog yet.

    -- Diane Roberts, a former Times editorial writer, is a professor of English at the University of Alabama.

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