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Florida Democrats hand support to Bush

Tampa mayor Dick Greco joins others across the state in jumping party lines to support the Texas governor.

By TIM NICKENS

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 9, 1999


ORLANDO -- On his third campaign swing through Florida, Republican front-runner George W. Bush on Monday scooped up more than $600,000 and endorsements from several prominent Democrats -- including Tampa Mayor Dick Greco.

Bush and his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, called the endorsements more evidence that the Texas governor's presidential campaign unites people rather than divides them. Greco said at a news conference that he has voted for both Democrats and Republicans over the years and that party affiliation is irrelevant.

"That doesn't matter," the mayor said. "The person does. The only way to get something done in government is as a consensus builder. He has done that."

Joining Greco in endorsing Bush were Democrats Bob Crawford, the state agriculture commissioner who endorsed Jeb Bush over Democrat Buddy MacKay last year; former Gov. Wayne Mixson; Board of Regents member Steve Uhlfelder; and Fort Lauderdale Mayor James Naugle.

Tampa Police Chief Bennie Holder also has endorsed Bush, the campaign said.

The new endorsements underscore Bush's dominance in Florida.

A new St. Petersburg Times -- Miami Herald poll shows Bush leading Vice President Al Gore in a hypothetical match-up, 49 percent to 34 percent. Bush raised more than $3.9-million in Florida by the end of September, three times what Gore raised. With Monday's take, which included more than $200,000 in Jacksonville and more than $400,000 in Orlando, Bush could hit $5-million here by the end of the year.

"If this governor of Texas is half as good of a president as this governor is in Florida," Uhlfelder said, "we will be in great shape."

Bush, in an apparent dig at GOP challenger Steve Forbes and others who contend the Texan is not emphasizing his opposition to abortion and other hot-button conservative issues, said his agenda has bipartisan appeal. He listed tax cuts, a strong military, better treatment of the elderly, preservation of Social Security and education as his priorities.

"My message is one that discerning Democrats can hear," he said. "My fellow Republicans have to understand that in order to win . . . we have to have a nominee who can not only win Republican votes but who can reach across party lines."

Responding to reporters' questions, the Texas governor defended his responses last week to a Boston television reporter's questions about foreign leaders. Bush failed to name the leaders of India, Pakistan and Chechnya. He managed only half of the name of Taiwan's president, rekindling questions about his knowledge of foreign policy.

"I haven't memorized every leader's name, but I fully understand how to lead the world to peace," Bush said. "I know how to lead."

Outside the fundraisers, the sentiment was with Bush.

"I think it's kind of silly," said former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, who had his own rough spots with the media in the late '80s. "I doubt all of the candidates could name the 50 state capitals in the United States."

Education Commissioner and U.S. Senate candidate Tom Gallagher called the pop quiz on foreign leaders' names a cheap shot.

"In the scheme of things it doesn't mean anything," he said. "I think the issue is how well you face up to a question when you don't know."

On that count, even some Bush supporters acknowledged the Texas governor could have responded differently.

"He could have handled it better," said Bill Register, a 64-year-old Jacksonville investor. "He shouldn't have said anything."

Others said the incident makes no difference at all.

"When he needs to be informed on that, he will be," said 37-year-old John Pritchett, the owner of a Gainesville truck dealership.

In Jacksonville, Jeb Bush served as host and warm-up act for his older brother.

"I got a call last week from Naomi Wolf," the governor deadpanned as he nodded toward presidential candidate George W. Bush. "Alpha man, don't you think?"

The 400 Bush supporters jammed into a downtown hotel ballroom roared as Jeb Bush went on about Wolf, a feminist author who is Vice President Al Gore's latest consultant. Gore's recent switch to light brown suits has been attributed to her influence.

"Running for president is a wacky thing," Jeb Bush said, "where you pay someone $15,000 to tell how to dress a man who's 50 years old."

For the record, when Jeb Bush made this observation he was wearing a tan suit -- the same shade Gore wore during the CNN debate two weeks ago.

In Jacksonville, Bush also was presented with a jersey from the hometown Jaguars.

"I'm not sure I am going to wear it in Dallas," Bush said. "Maybe at night."

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