Flattery key weapon in ad war
By ADAM C. SMITH, STEVE BOUSQUET and WES ALLISON
Here's what the governor says on new TV ads about Bill McBride , the Democratic challenger Bush has been assailing every chance he gets: "I think he is a person of high integrity and real honesty. . . . He really is one of the great Floridians of our time."
The praise is on a video Bush made in 1999, well before McBride jumped into the governor's race. Now the McBride campaign has turned those words into a statewide TV ad campaign aimed at casting doubts about the governor's own attacks on the Tampa lawyer.
The Bush campaign, meanwhile, is expected to launch its own TV spot touting McBride's praise for the governor to the St. Petersburg Times in 1999. Traveling with Bush on a trade mission to Israel, McBride called the governor "a person who cares about people" and someone who "knows how to do the right thing."
Only in Florida could a negative TV war feature the candidates heaping praise on each other. The unusual turn in the campaign came as television sets are flooded with political ads for the final sprint to Election Day. Each side is seeking to mobilize their supporters.
Former President Clinton joined a conference call with 25 African Methodist Episcopal ministers Friday, asking them to encourage high turnout. Recorded phone messages from Clinton also urge black voters in Miami-Dade County to vote before Election Day, something elections officials are encouraging statewide to avoid problems. The recorded calls from Clinton are expected to reach voters throughout the state soon.
Meanwhile, a series of new Republican mailings assail McBride as a tax-raiser "owned by special interests" and as a corporate lawyer "we can't trust."
Bush's campaign dismissed the new McBride ad as an act of desperation, but the governor's handlers reacted with a swiftness suggesting the ad was a real threat.
Two Democratic House speakers-turned-lobbyists, James Harold Thompson and T.K. Wetherell, held a news conference in Tallahassee to downplay the TV ad's impact. The Bush campaign displayed big blowups of McBride's own glowing words about Bush in the 1999 trip to Israel.
"My prediction is the public won't think much of this little exchange," Thompson said, "and that is as it should be in my humble opinion."
The McBride camp also is using Bush's own words in a second TV ad criticizing Bush for deceptive ads, doing too little to help seniors afford prescription drugs and opposing smaller class sizes.
Bush says he supports reducing class sizes but opposes an expensive ballot amendment capping class sizes. The McBride ad includes Bush's own voice caught on tape talking about the amendment: "I've got a couple of devious plans if this thing passes."
A reporter recorded the comment in a meeting Bush thought was private, and the governor said it was a sarcastic remark he now regrets.
Bush's testimonial for McBride was made at an awards dinner for Holland & Knight, the law firm McBride used to lead. Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyist Steve Uhlfelder, who worked at the firm in 1999, said he prodded Bush to make the video at the request of Chesterfield Smith, the firm's patriarch, McBride's mentor and a former American Bar Association president.
"I kept bugging them to get it done. The governor was very busy and he did it as a favor to the law firm," Uhlfelder said. "It just shows that nothing is off limits in a political campaign. All it shows is that Gov. Bush is a decent human being."
The McBride campaign expects the governor's own words about McBride will blunt his campaign attacks on him and convince voters they can't trust what Bush says. The ad ends with the words "to be continued." The campaign plans another ad featuring more of Bush's 1999 video testimonial.
McBride's own comments about Bush came the same year, after the governor had passed his education plan, which included grading schools and offering vouchers to students in chronically low-performing schools. The comments also came shortly after Bush announced his controversial plan to overhaul affirmative action programs in Florida.
McBride, campaigning Friday in North Florida, said he didn't know how bad that plan would be and he had hoped at the time that schools would fare better under Bush.
"He still was talking the rhetoric of improving public schools," McBride said. "There was still hope. If he had kept his promises, I wouldn't be running."
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From the Times state desk
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