Bush wins Florida

By Diana Lynne

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush soundly defeated Democratic challenger Bill McBride to become the first Republican governor re-elected in the Sunshine State.

Bush won 2,813,665 votes, or 57 percent, while McBride had 2,146,239 votes, or 43 percent.

Early in the evening, CNN, CBS and the Fox News Channel projected Bush would win. A short time later, President Bush called his brother to congratulate him.

Tampa lawyer and political novice McBride, who eked out a narrow victory over Democratic rival and former Attorney General Janet Reno in the September primary, conceded the race about an hour later.

“I’m proud and pleased and there’s more love in this room than I deserve,” McBride told supporters. “I want you to know that this has been a wonderful experience.”

Minutes later, Bush addressed an enthusiastic crowd of supporters who greeted him with chants of, “Jeb, Jeb, Jeb.”

Former President George Bush introduced his son with former First Lady Barbara Bush at his side on stage.

“First before I start off, I want to thank Almighty God for giving me a chance to serve,” Jeb Bush said. “I want to thank my mother and dad for being my inspiration in life … and I want to thank our great president of the United States for coming down and lending a hand to his little brother,” he continued.

Ghosts of elections past and future

The race captured the national spotlight, with big names campaigning for both candidates.

President Bush made several campaign trips to Florida. Vice President Dick Cheney and others from the Bush family and White House also made appearances.

Meanwhile Democrats, who would love to score some political payback for the 2000 presidential recount saga, brought in their big guns including President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

“Two years ago, 40,000 or 50,000 people showed up to vote and they were counted out,” Clinton told a crowd of more than 1,000 gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Church in West Palm Beach Sunday.

“If you don’t show up in the same numbers you showed up then, they’ll say it worked,” he continued.

Democratic national chairman Terry McAuliffe declared his No. 1 goal for the Nov. 5 election was to defeat Jeb Bush in Florida.

“Jeb is gone! There won’t be anything as devastating to President Bush as his brother’s losing in Florida,” McAuliffe was quoted by the New York Times as saying.

McAuliffe pledged the national party would make an all-out commitment of money and campaign workers to help McBride in order to avenge Gore’s failure to capture the state in 2000, but also to set the stage for a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, according to the Times.

GOP sweep

“Chain Gang” Charlie Crist became Florida’s first Republican attorney general, cementing a GOP sweep of the state’s executive branch by beating Orlando state Sen. Buddy Dyer.

Crist won 2,595,838 votes, or 54 percent, over Dyer’s 2,243,038 votes, or 46 percent.

Florida has had only two other GOP governors since the 1870s – Claude Kirk in 1966 and Bob Martinez in 1986. Both lost re-election bids.

“We have done a lot in the last four years,” Bush told supporters in his victory speech. “We have rising student achievement now. Our crime rate is the lowest it’s been since 1972. Florida is on the right track as it relates to our economy and we have a proud tradition of protecting our environment. But there’s more, so much more that we need to do,” he said.

But while Bush easily won re-election, his new term presents battles. Voters approved Amendment 9, which limits class sizes in public schools, an initiative Bush called too costly.

Voters also passed Amendment 11 which replaces the Bush-backed system of running Florida’s higher education with a governing board similar to the Board of Regents that Bush and his fellow Republicans scrapped last year.

No black eye this year

Voter turnout in Florida was estimated to be between 58 percent and 62 percent.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. on a smoother-than-expected election in the fourth most populous state.

In stark contrast to the Sept. 10 primary in which Bush declared a state of emergency over rampant problems with poll workers and computers, only minor, widely scattered glitches were encountered across the state.

Early in the day, election officials reported problems with optical scanners in Brevard, Orange and Seminole counties but later said the trouble had been fixed.

Touchscreen machines were misprogrammed at a South Miami precinct, but Miami-Dade County
Manager Steve Shiver said a backup system was put in place and no one was turned away.

Throughout the day, an online map showing the status of Broward County polling stations was green all over, indicating no problems at any precincts.

“This is technology at work. We were able to take care of any problems that arose,” Broward Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Oliphant suffered fierce
criticism for her handling of the primary.

Palm Beach County officials, who weathered the epicenter of the 2000 storm with the notorious butterfly ballot, reported smooth sailing at its precincts.

In 2000, Democrats and Republicans mounted legal challenges and pushed for a series of manual recounts because of alleged polling irregularities.

WND Books author and
newly elected congresswoman Katherine Harris
, then Florida’s GOP secretary of state, certified the election for George W. Bush over Vice President Al Gore, handing Bush the state’s 11 electoral votes and the White House five weeks later.

Florida lawmakers went to work immediately following the presidential election debacle and passed reform legislation that outlawed punchcard ballots and mandated that counties already using optical-scan ballots adopt new machines called “Precinct Counters” that sound an alarm when a voter makes an error.

Lawmakers allocated $32 million for new machines, voter education about the new machines and the development of a new central voter database to detect felons.

Thousands of public employees were on hand at the polls to monitor voting, as well as representatives of the NAACP and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, monitors dispatched by the U.S. Department of Justice and European observers enlisted by the Washington-based Center for Democracy which normally oversees Third World elections.

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