President Bush's younger brother, Jeb Bush, has won re-election as governor of the southern state of Florida. The race drew national attention, in part because the outcome is thought to have implications for President Bush's re-election effort in 2004.
A beaming Jeb Bush claimed victory late Tuesday after near-complete results showed him defeating Democratic Party challenger Bill McBride by more than 15 percentage points.
Introduced by his fathe, former President George Bush, at a victory celebration in Miami, the governor thanked his large and politically-potent family, which rallied around him during the campaign. "I want to thank my mother and dad for being my inspiration in life," he said. "And I want to thank our great President of the United States for coming down and lending a hand to his little brother."
President Bush has visited Florida a dozen times since taking office, more trips than to any other state.
Political observers say, had Jeb Bush been defeated in the governor's race, it would have been a bad sign for the president's chances of carrying Florida in the year 2004. It was Florida that ultimately decided the 2000 presidential contest, after five weeks of ballot recounts and court battles.
Florida officials thought they had solved the state's balloting problems when they discarded decades-old manual "punch card" voting machines in favor of computerized "touch-screen" systems. But several counties, including Miami-Dade, failed to adequately train poll workers to operate the new machines for primary elections in September. As a result, many polling stations in September opened late and some not at all.
Eager to avoid a repeat of yet another voting debacle, Miami-Dade went to extraordinary lengths to correct the problems, including hiring Washington-based elections observers, normally dispatched to developing democracies, to monitor preparations in the county.
Few balloting problems were reported Tuesday, much to the relief of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.
"We learned how to do it right. We got the elections right," he said. "We are not going to be the butt of jokes tonight; we are going to be recognized as a model for the rest of the world. That is great news for this community."