Reno to Run for Florida Governor

Janet Reno


Reno spoke to reporters outside her southwest Miami-Dade County home hours after opening a campaign fund in Tallahassee.  "I've spent the last three months talking to people all across Florida, and I think they share my vision for Florida building the best educational system in the country, preserving our environment, managing our growth and standing up for our elders," she said. Reno said Floridians want a governor "who's not afraid to make the hard decision, to stand up for those decisions."

"I have decided I can best serve the people of the state of Florida by seeking the office of governor," Reno said.

The paperwork opening Reno's campaign account was filed by friend and adviser Gary Barron at the state elections office.

Reno vs. Bush?

The filing allows Reno to raise money and hire staff.  Barron, former deputy treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, wouldn't estimate how much money was needed. "We don't anticipate there will be any problem raising the amount of funds required," he said. "We're off and running." Polls have shown Reno beating other Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination in September 2002, but losing to Bush, who said in June he would seek re-election.  Bush, who was elected in 1998, is vying to become the state's first Republican governor to win re-election. The race would generate national attention after the governor's brother defeated Al Gore following the protracted 2000 presidential election in Florida.  "The governor is not focused on any of the Democratic candidates. He will remain focused on doing the best job that he can for the people of Florida," said Karen Unger, a Bush campaign spokeswoman. In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president has not expressed any opinions about Reno's candidacy, adding: "It's a safe bet he'll be supporting his brother."

"I think it's good that the attention can turn away from the question of whether she will run and now to which Democrat is the best candidate for governor," Frankel said.

To Gore, or Not to Gore?

"She will have to decide whether she'll follow the Gore path or the un-Gore path," said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. "Will she try to separate herself from Clinton or will she embrace her boss of 7 years? She cannot tread that line."

Reno, 63, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1995 but has said the disease would not prevent her from serving as governor. "I went to the doctors before I even talked about considering it and would never have considered it if they hadn't said, 'You should be able to be governor just fine,"' she said in a TV interview on Aug. 12. The Miami native was elected Dade County's state attorney five times. The race for governor would represent her first statewide campaign for public office. Florida has never elected a woman governor, but Reno has broken through glass ceilings before. She was the first female attorney general in U.S. history and the first woman to serve as a state attorney in Florida. A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll in late July found that Reno would easily win the primary but would lose to Bush 54 percent to 39 percent in the general election. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

With only 7 percent of those surveyed undecided, some Democrats have worried that Reno would not appeal to swing voters crucial in a state that was almost evenly divided during the 2000 presidential election.  "I don't think a poll taken now can tell you an awful lot about the election," said Buddy MacKay, a Democrat who served as governor for 23 days after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles in December 1998. "The primary will be a year from now. Who knows what will transpire between now and then."

Janet Reno's move would pit her against the president's brother and give Democrats a chance for payback for last November. The former attorney general's decisive lead in the polls over other potential Democratic candidates plus the bad blood from the election fiasco last year will make a match-up with Gov. Jeb Bush the most-watched political contest of 2002. "I think it would make the Super Bowl look like a preseason game," said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist. "It's going to be a major international media contest." It was widely speculated, according to sources close to Reno, that she was going to run. "It's my understanding that she's going to run," former Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, who described Reno as one of his closest friends, told The Miami Herald.

Once reluctant to mention Gov. Bush by name or to criticize his first term, Reno has been more vocal about his policies in recent weeks. "We've got to beat Jeb Bush, but we've got to do much, much more. We've got to come together as a Democratic Party," Reno told party activists in Gainesville on Thursday. "What you see ladies and gentlemen is what you get, someone willing to stand up and make the hard decisions whether it's popular or not, a person who cares about justice and the people of Florida."

Some of the criticisms that dogged Reno during her term as attorney general could arise again, including her ordering of the assault at Waco in 1993 and her role in the seizure of Elian Gonzalez from his Miami relatives last year. Cuban-Americans have vilified her over Elian, and Reno has reached out to them during her speaking tour.

During the chaotic recount in Florida, many Democrats accused the governor, Jeb Bush, of working behind the scenes to help his brother an allegation Bush denied. As for the role the controversy will play in the governor's race, Bush said earlier this year: "I'm going to stay focused on Florida." Other Democrats who have filed to run include state Sen. Daryl Jones, House Minority Leader Lois Frankel, former Ambassador to Vietnam and one-time U.S. Rep. Pete Peterson, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis and Attorney Bill McBride.

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Killing Children is NEVER Justified!