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    Vote tips toward McBride

    By ADAM C. SMITH, WES ALLISON and STEVE BOUSQUET
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 12, 2002
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    56k | High-Speed


    TAMPA -- Bill McBride appeared poised to win the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Wednesday, though the election mess kept anyone from declaring a winner.
    100 % OF PRECINCTS COUNTED
     Governor (D)
    6717 of 6717 precincts reporting
    Bill McBride 601,008   44.5%
    Janet Reno 592,812   43.9%
    Daryl L. Jones 156,358   11.6%

    Statewide results
    McBride, trying to avoid looking overconfident, scrubbed a planned victory tour of the state and kept a watchful eye on Janet Reno while quietly planning strategy to take on Gov. Jeb Bush in November.

    The former U.S. attorney general, meanwhile, quietly weighed her legal and political options, while vote counting continued into the night in her South Florida strongholds.

    "I just want to get it done. You don't have a clue what's going to happen," said McBride, who was cheered like a winner Wednesday morning.

    [AP photo]
    Janet Reno declines to answer questions Wednesday as she leaves her campaign headquarters in Miami Lakes.

    Several times during the day, McBride praised "General Reno," as he calls her, and noted it was unlikely he would claim victory unless she acknowledged defeat.

    Daryl Jones, however, conceded the obvious. Although the Miami state senator did better than expected Tuesday, he still badly trailed McBride and Reno.

    County elections officials are supposed to submit unofficial results to the state today, but the possibility of a recount and legal challenge remained.

    An automatic machine recount is triggered if a candidate loses by one-half of 1 percent of the total votes cast for the office.
    [Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
    Bill McBride thanks his supporters at his headquarters in Tampa early Wednesday morning.

    McBride's campaign worried about a court fight, but also met privately with his media consultant about new campaign ads. His finance and political teams, meanwhile, focused on the $10-million to $15-million fundraising and marketing effort they expect they would need to take on Bush.

    Reno paced her Miami Lakes campaign headquarters and huddled with staffers and key supporters. Cheers, laughter and chants of "Re-no! Re-no!" could be heard.

    "I at this point don't want to talk about it until I know what the circumstances are," Reno said when asked if she hoped for a fast resolution.

    In an election as close as this, major voting problems can be decisive. Tuesday's were concentrated in Broward and Miami-Dade, Reno's strongest counties.

    She is talking with legal advisers about contesting the election, a prospect that worries some Democrats.

    "The problem she has if she does not prevail on the final count is that there is no remedy for what she claims is wrong without destroying the entire chance of the Democratic Party," said Dexter Douglass, a McBride supporter and former member of Al Gore's legal team in 2000.

    Alan Greer, Reno's campaign lawyer and confidante, acknowledged such concerns.

    "It's not just a legal decision process," Greer said. "You have to factor it into the political process, every step of the way, such as how it might affect voters' attitudes toward candidates down the ballot. . . . You can't look at it as a pure question of right or wrong."

    Deputy state attorney general Paul Hancock, who worked under Reno at the Justice Department's Voting Rights Section and supports Reno, said her main concern is the effect of the election problems on voters.

    "Janet Reno always is very concerned about the average citizen or voter, the people who have been good citizens in attempting to cast their ballot," Hancock said. "Those people are foremost in her mind."

    Both candidates kept low profiles on the solemn anniversary of Sept. 11. Reno limited her public appearance to a Miami Beach synagogue.

    McBride started the morning in a light rain at Gorrie Elementary School in Tampa, where he joined students and teachers for the short walk to Flags Along the Bayshore, a tribute to victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

    Surrounded by friends and supporters, McBride was mobbed just as Reno usually is. He mugged for photos, signed autographs and traded hugs.

    "This is the guy who will be the next governor," Manuel Duran, the principal at DeSoto Elementary School, told students and staff lined along Bayshore. "Remember that."

    Then to McBride, Duran said, "I want a picture for our scrapbook."

    He moved on to the Tampa Marriott Westshore, where he had hoped for a Tuesday night victory party that never happened.

    By late Wednesday, nearly 24 hours after McBride first arrived, the hotel had the feel of a fancy ball whose guests had gotten snowed in.

    Over the podium in the ballroom the campaign had rented, the red, white and blue arch of balloons sagged lazily, and trays of empty glasses lined the walls.

    The McBride campaign had tentatively scheduled a statewide victory tour today and Friday to thank the troops for their work so far and to rally them for the work ahead. That was postponed.

    If McBride is declared a winner today, they will make plans to do that as soon as possible, officials said.

    Meanwhile, Democrats still are tentatively planning a unity tour Saturday. Campaign manager Mo Elleithee said Reno plans to take part in the tour, being organized by U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.

    Jones said Wednesday he might not be able to join the unity tour because he is scheduled for Air Force Reserve duty Saturday.

    Jones, who won roughly 12 percent of the vote, said the months he spent in regular and special sessions of the Legislature this year kept him from raising enough money to be competitive. That proved to be his biggest obstacle, he said.

    "I didn't have any problem that $2-million couldn't have solved," he said.

    His support among African-Americans also could have pulled enough votes from Reno to have made a difference, but Jones dismissed a question about whether he was a spoiler.

    "That's a political question," he said. "That's like saying merits are not important."

    Jones has consistently said he would not consider being anyone's running mate, but softened a bit Wednesday: "There are conditions under which I might consider that, but ultimately I think the answer probably is no."

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