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Candidates go toe to toe with TV ads

By ADAM C. SMITH, WES ALLISON and STEVE BOUSQUET

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 2, 2002


TAMPA -- Jeb Bush and Bill McBride are making their final weekend push to turn out supporters, hitting radio and TV airwaves, mailboxes and massive rallies.

TAMPA -- Jeb Bush and Bill McBride are making their final weekend push to turn out supporters, hitting radio and TV airwaves, mailboxes and massive rallies.

On the ground, campaign workers are knocking on doors and preparing vans and buses to haul people to vote. Today, McBride and Bush show off their biggest political celebrities -- Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- to galvanize voters.

On the air, McBride, after weeks of getting pummelled by negative ads, appears to be nearly matching Bush in TV ads in the final stretch.

A review of ad buys in the Tampa Bay area, Florida's biggest TV market, shows $336,000 spent on McBride ads for the final 10 days, compared to nearly $372,000 on Bush ads. Three weeks ago Bush was outspending McBride 5 to 1 on Tampa Bay TV.

"We'll go toe to toe in the last five days here," McBride said after a rally Friday in Gainesville. "If TV works, we'll have plenty."

But Bush's TV presence has dwarfed McBride's for most the campaign, and Republicans are sending out far more mailings on Bush's behalf than Democrats. What's more, independent groups are assisting the Bush campaign.

The Unified Sportsmen of Florida, an affiliate of the National Rifle Association, is running radio ads in North Florida praising the governor. Other, more mysterious groups are going after McBride.

"Big Spender Bill is going to RAISE TAXES on anything and everything that moves in Florida," warns a new mailer by a group called People for a Better Florida. Most voters would have no idea that the group, which also is running radio ads, is connected to doctors eager to curb malpractice awards by juries.

Such attacks have taken their toll. Since the primary, the McBride campaign has raised about $12-million for the party and his campaign, but that was nowhere near enough to knock down the steady pounding he has received by the Republican Party for weeks.

The Florida GOP would not release its fundraising total, but it was expected to be more than $30-million this year. Much of that was spent on painting McBride, a Tampa lawyer and first-time candidate, as someone who will raise taxes.

Nearly everywhere he goes, local TV reporters ask McBride about taxes. He devotes part of every stump speech to repeating his promise that he will raise only cigarette taxes to increase spending on schools.

One of his new TV ads makes the same point: "Don't let Jeb Bush scare you," McBride, sitting in a classroom, says after touting his support for smaller class sizes. "I won't raise taxes like he says, and he knows it. What I will do is give each child in Florida a chance of getting a good education. That's what this election is about."

A second ad cites newspapers describing Bush spots as false and misleading. "Jeb Bush . So desperate, he'd say anything," it declares.

McBride is hoping for huge Democratic turnout to overcome Bush's lead in recent polls. Thousands of African-Americans turned out Friday morning in Fort Lauderdale as McBride joined popular talk radio show host Tom Joyner for a live national broadcast, along with Janet Reno and U.S. Rep. Carrie Meek.

Clinton, hugely popular among African-Americans, will headline get-out-the-vote rallies in Miami this afternoon and Fort Lauderdale tonight, and join McBride for church services Sunday in West Palm Beach. Before heading to south Florida, McBride will campaign at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and hold a noon rally at Lowry Park in Tampa with James Carville, the Democratic strategist and TV personality.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign is in high gear. Two tour buses, one carrying Bush and his entourage and another carrying a dozen reporters, headed out from Pensacola Friday morning on a three-day weekend trip across the state.

Bush's biggest worry: "Complacency," said the governor, accompanied by his wife, Columba, and son, George P., Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, former House Speaker John Thrasher and assorted lawmakers.

A crowd of several thousand people awaited the Bush caravan at a waterfront park in Panama City. Dozens of people wore bright red "Jeb!" T-shirts, and there were custom-made signs saying "McTax for big bureaucracy."

"My opponent is not giving up," Bush said. "Hundreds of people are organizing the get out the vote effort in South Florida. President Clinton is coming down for two days to try to mobilize their base."

The mention of Clinton's name brought resounding boos from the crowd, and Bush said: "Forget him. My point is, don't be complacent."

Today Florida will be treated to dueling presidents. Soon after Clinton rallies Democrats in south Florida, President George W. Bush arrives in Tampa for a rally at the Sun Dome.

Joining the mix Sunday are former Vice President Al Gore, who is scheduled to campaign for McBride in Orlando, Daytona Beach and Miami, and Republican former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who will campaign in Broward County for Bush. Recorded messages by Giuliani also are reaching Jewish voters in South Florida.

Gore and McBride will have breakfast together in Miami Monday, as Bush begins a six-city fly-around starting in Pensacola and ending in Miami.

Bush, relaxing on the mirrored ceiling tour bus, suggested McBride's recent focus on South Florida, an area he largely ceded to Janet Reno in the primary, will be too little too late. The Tampa lawyer, Bush said, has failed to offer a stronger message than being the anti-Jeb.

"That's enough for some people. Trust me, I've met them. But that's not enough to win an election. Thankfully not everybody hates my guts. If they did, he wouldn't have to campaign," Bush said.

The governor also denounced an e-mail sent by the president of the Miami-Dade teachers union, asking teachers there to send letters home with students urging support for McBride and several education ballot initiatives.

The McBride campaign dismissed the complaint, pointing to assorted letters and e-mails the governor and his staff sent to state employees and teachers touting his record and weighing in on ballot initiatives.

"If he's complaining about campaign tactics that's absurd," McBride said. "Maybe he should have a press conference with all the mailers he's been sending out."

-- Times staff writer Candace Rondeaux contributed to this report.

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