McBride Claims Victory in Florida Democratic Primary

By: - September 13, 2002 12:00 am

Florida election officials have certified Bill McBride as the winner over Janet Reno in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. But Reno is refusing to concede amid continued reports of voting problems and uncounted ballots in Miami-Dade County precincts.

McBride, a Tampa lawyer, claimed victory after state election officials informed him late Thursday that he had won the race by 8,196 votes out of more than 1.4 million cast. They said there would be no recount of the ballots.

A recount would have been automatic under state rules if the vote separating the two candidates had been 6,700 votes, or one-half of one percent of all votes cast. The unofficial vote tally had McBride with 601,008 votes to Reno’s 592,812. State Sen. Daryl Jones was a distant third with 156,358.

McBride set about trying to unify the party in preparation for the November 5 election fight against Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. He told supporters that he hoped to “bring everyone back together again” and build a campaign statewide that would also draw Republicans and Independents to his side.

McBride aides said he stressed the importance of unifying the party in a phone conservation with Reno shortly after he was certified the official winner. But Reno told reporters later that there were still too many questions concerning voting irregularities that had to be answered before she would concede.

Whether that includes a legal challenge to the election results remains unclear. But Reno aides left the door open to that possibility, saying the former U.S. attorney general has a duty to her supporters to make sure the election process is fair. In the meantime, election officials said they would at least review the vote tallies in a number of Miami-Dade County precincts where voting problems occurred.

Florida election workers had kept busy through Wednesday and Thursday trying to resolve voting disputes and prevent a reprise of the state’s 2000 presidential recount fiasco that propelled George W. Bush into the White House.

Florida was one of 11 states that held primary elections on Sept. 10 to winnow the field of candidates for statewide office before this year’s final political contest on Nov.5.

Earlier in the summer, Reno was considered by political analysts to be an almost certain winner. McBride, however, had surged recently in polls to make it a neck-and-neck race. But in the end their close nomination fight was marred by electoral chaos in Tuesday’s balloting.

Voters complained that polling station and voting machine mishaps reminded them of the state’s 2000 presidential recount debacle. Many voters, including Reno, were turned away at some polling stations that failed to open on schedule at 7 a.m. The delays prompted Gov. Bush to issue an executive order extending the voting deadline by two hours. Bush also had to deal with charges of political conspiracy from some minority voters who were upset about poll workers not showing up at several precincts and new touch screen voting machines that were not set up in time or didn’t work at all.

Asked by reporters for his reaction to the election day mess, Bush called it “shameful.”

Things seemed to go more smoothly in the 10 other states holding primary elections, although voting machine problems delayed some vote counts in a Maryland congressional race.

In Wisconsin, another closely watched gubernatorial race, state Attorney General Jim Doyle defeated U.S. Rep. Tom Barrett and Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk to win the Democratic primary. He will face Republican Gov. Scott McCallum, who may be one of the most vulnerable governors in the country this year.

Like Florida, the Wisconsin Democratic race turned out to be close with Doyle winning about 38 percent of the vote to Barrett’ s 34 and Falk’s 27 percent.

In addition to Florida and Wisconsin, 9 other states held primary elections Tuesday, marking the largest voter turnout yet in this year’s election season. Georgia, which held its primary on Aug. 20, also held a few runoff elections to determine the final candidates for the November contest.

The balloting in most states was free of controversy for the most part, other than a few complaints about long voting lines due to voters being unfamiliar with some of the new high-tech touch screen voting machines.

In New York, the center of today’s Sept. 11 anniversary observances, things went smoothly for state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who became the defacto Democratic nominee for governor after former Clinton administration housing secretary Andrew Cuomo withdrew from the race.

But on the Republican side, Gov. George Pataki got a scare from Independent candidate B. Thomas Golisano, who was beating Pataki in a number of precincts, despite the governor winning the endorsement of Independent Party Chairman Frank MacKay. Pataki is counting on his Republican base, along with a coalition of Democratic, Independent and Conservative Party voters to win a third term. Registered Democrats in the state outnumber other voters 3-to-1.

In another tight race in New Hampshire, businessman Craig Benson defeated former U.S. Sen. Gordon Humphrey and Bruce Keough to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. The candidates spent about $15 million in their contest, making it the most expensive campaign in state history. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Mark Fernald won his race over state Sen. Bev Hollingworth.

Arizona voters also went to the polls Tuesday, giving state attorney general Janet Napolitano the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon won the Republican nomination.

In Rhode Island, two-time Democratic gubernatorial nominee Myrth York won a third time, beating out state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse by a narrow one percent margin . York, who ran for governor in 1994 and 1998, will face Republican nominee Donald Cacieri, who easily won his race against Jim Bennett.

The Minnesota primary for governor held few surprises. As expected, Democratic candidate Roger Moe advanced to the November general election, as did Republican Tim Pawlenty, Independent Party candidate Tim Penny and Green Party candidate Ken Pentel.

In Vermont, meanwhile, the Democratic, Republican and Independent Party gubernatorial primaries were uncontested. Recent polls indicate that none of the three candidates – Democratic Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, Republican state treasurer Jim Douglans, or Independent Cornelius “Con” Hogan – will capture 50 percent of the vote in November, which could toss the final election decision into the state legislature.

In addition to the gubernatorial contests, primary voters also selected nominees for state legislatures and other statewide offices. Voters also made some crucial decisions in U.S. House and Senate races.

In New Hampshire, for example, Republican voters turned out conservative Sen. Robert C. Smith, giving the nomination for U.S. senator to Rep. John E. Sununu. Smith had alienated many of the state’s voters when he quit the party in anger in 1999 for a brief time.

The contest in North Carolina to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms also took shape Tuesday, with Elizabeth Dole easily winning the GOP nomination and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles getting the Democratic nod.

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