Florida's governor's race is drawing national attention, as the outcome could have implications for President Bush's re-election effort in 2004. Republican Jeb Bush, the younger brother of President Bush, is running for re-election against a political newcomer, Democratic attorney Bill McBride.
President Bush has many hopes for the 2002 elections, including that his brother, Jeb, will win a second term as governor of Florida. "Anything I can do to help Jeb stay in the governor's office, I will do," said President Bush.
Since becoming president, George Bush has visited Florida more often than any other state in the nation, almost always with Jeb Bush at his side. Florida International University political scientist Kevin Hill says the president is not just looking out for his younger brother; he is looking out for himself, as well. "If Jeb Bush were to lose this governor's race, it would not reflect well on his brother's chances of winning Florida in 2004. It certainly would not be good for President Bush," said Kevin Hill.
Two years ago, President Bush won the state of Florida by less than 1,000 votes after five contentious weeks of ballot recounts and court battles.
To this day, many Democrats dispute the final outcome in Florida. African-Americans are particularly bitter, as studies have shown that balloting problems were most prevalent in predominantly black and other minority districts.
Miami resident Sam Brown says he and other African-Americans have not forgotten what took place two years ago. "There are a lot of feelings that the election was stolen in 2000. Many [black voters] felt that they were disenfranchised," said Sam Brown.
It was Governor Bush's Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, who ultimately certified the 2000 election results in Florida. Democrats say they would love to extract revenge by defeating the president's brother. They hope that lingering anger over the 2000 election debacle will help propel their party's candidate, Bill McBride, to victory in the governor's race.
But political scientist Kevin Hill says that scenario is more fanciful than plausible. "The fact that Democrats are angry about 2000 is pretty much irrelevant," he said. "I am sure they are mad, but what can they do about it other than vote? I mean, they cannot vote twice."
The Florida governor's race may have national implications, but for months the campaign issues have been mostly local, such as improving the state's educational system.
But the race has taken an unexpected twist. Last Tuesday, exactly one week before the election, more than 200 Haitian boat people landed near Miami and were promptly detained by federal authorities.
Haitian-Americans have loudly protested the treatment of the new arrivals and called on Governor Bush to appeal to his brother, the president, on their behalf.
Immigration policy is a federal, not a state, matter. But Democratic candidate Bill McBride has gone out of his way to align himself with the Haitians. "What we have now is a policy that discriminates against one group of people unfairly," said Bill Mc Bride. "The people of America know that."
As a general rule, immigrant groups tend to vote Democratic. But one powerful immigrant group in Florida is solidly Republican. Public opinion polls show Governor Bush enjoys 90 percent backing among Cuban-Americans, like Juan Garau.
Mr. Garau says he will vote for Jeb Bush, because he feels the governor will take a harder line when it comes to dealings with Cuban President Fidel Castro.
Political observers say it is virtually impossible for a Democrat to win statewide office in Florida with less than 25 percent of the Cuban vote. Thus, Bill McBride's single-digit approval rating among Cubans is a sign of trouble. Statewide, recent polling data show Mr. McBride trailing Governor Bush by 7-8 percentage points.