Primaries: Fla gov race tight amid snafus

By United Press International  |  Sept. 11, 2002 at 3:02 AM
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Tampa attorney Bill McBride early Wednesday appeared to be on his way to winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination over former Attorney General Janet Reno in a Florida election riddled with human and technical glitches that were reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election.

After equipment and personnel problems at several polling places forced the current governor, Jeb Bush, to extend the state's voting hours, McBride was leading Reno with 45.9 percent of the vote to Reno's 42.2 percent with 89 percent of the vote counted.

If he wins Tuesday's vote, McBride will have completed one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the Florida Democratic Party.

It wasn't an easy campaign for McBride, who had trailed Reno in a Tampa Tribune poll last week, or for election officials in a state where the 2000 presidential election boiled down to a hand count of paper ballots and examinations of "hanging chads" that gave President Bush a 537-vote win over also-ran Vice President Al Gore.

Gov. Bush, the president's younger brother, has already been running hard for the November election, and has been running several ads against McBride under the apparent assumption that he would be the stronger opponent.

"A whole lot of people outside this state don't want me to get elected because they want to try to begin to undermine our great president of the United States," Bush said.

Bush ordered polls in the state to remain open for an extra two hours after many polling stations in the south Florida counties of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties threw open their doors as many as two hours later than had been scheduled. He ordered the extra time at the polls statewide after officials for the Reno campaign threatened to file a lawsuit.

Uncooperative touch-screen voting machines and inexperienced poll workers who were unable to boot them up -- and who in some cases failed to show up at all -- contributed to the frustrating delays.

Meanwhile, voting went smoothly in the other 11 states that held primary elections on Tuesday. Candidates for various governor's offices and congressional seats were selected on a day when many Americans were preoccupied with Wednesday's anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the looming possibility that U.S. troops might soon be fighting against Iraq.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said it was impossible to say if world events would limit Tuesday's turnout, but he also insisted the Nov. 5 midterm elections would not force Congress to rush through any debate on its role in a U.S. offensive in the Middle East before the vote changes the makeup of the House and Senate.

"I don't think we should make the decision based on ... politics or what needs to be done in terms of informing the general public," opined Lott. "I think it should be based more on intelligence and what's happening. The American people are going to be informed, and as we are informed, we'll be making statements and there is certainly going to be plenty of dialogue about it."

The Senate seats of two staunch conservative Republicans were in play Tuesday and will change hands in November.

In North Carolina, Elizabeth Dole handily won the GOP nomination for the seat being vacated after some 30 years by the venerable Jesse Helms. She will run against Democratic nominee Erskin Bowles, a former aide to President Clinton.

"I've tried to serve my country all my life," Dole told supporters Tuesday night, "but nothing matches the honor and joy of gaining the approval of the hard-working people of North Carolina."

In New Hampshire, Sen. Bob Smith's brief fling as an independent presidential candidate came back to haunt him as he lost his bid for a third term to Rep. John E. Sununu, the 37-year-old son of former governor John H. Sununu, who was also President George Bush's chief of staff.

Sununu boasts conservative views comparable to Smith's, but he will have to first get past Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination and is considered a rising star on the national political scene.

It was big night for the fabled Kennedy family Tuesday as Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend breezed her way to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and will face Republican Rep. Robert Erlich in a race that has already topped $10 million in spending. Another Kennedy, State Delegate Mark Shriver, narrowly lost the Democratic race for the 8th Congressional District to Chris Van Hollen.

New York's State Comptroller Carl McCall became the first African American to win a major party's gubernatorial nomination in the Empire State. The 66-year-old former New York City school board president had little trouble after his chief competitor, Andrew Cuomo, dropped out of the race last week while unable to cut McCall's lead in the polls. He will face incumbent Republican George Pataki.

Voter turnout in New York was light, estimated at 10 percent to 12 percent in the Democratic race, which McCall chalked up to the state's focus on Sept. 11.

"Tonight is a victory for every child and every family in this state, yet now, just hours before the anniversary of our overwhelming loss, our celebration is tempered," McCall somberly told supporters in Manhattan.

Elsewhere, Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum won the Republican nomination over high school teacher George Pobuda and former state lawmaker and Elvis impersonator Bill Lorge.

Minnesota voters selected Democrat Roger Moe and Republican Tim Pawlenty as candidates to replace outgoing Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Arizona's outgoing Gov. Jane Dee Hull will be replaced next year by either Democrat Janet Napolitano or Republican Matt Salmon; votes continued to be counted in eight congressional races in Arizona.

Congressional districts were contested in Georgia, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Vermont.

(Reported and written by Hil Anderson with reporting by Marie Horrigan, Les Kjos, Marcella Kreiter, Dave Haskell, Alex Cukan and Mike Cooper.)

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