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GOV BUSH says he will run for re-election


MIAMI (AP) _ Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday he will run for re-election in 2002, setting up what could be the most closely watched gubernatorial contest of the season _ especially if Janet Reno gets into the race.

``I believe that we have unfinished business,'' President Bush's younger brother said.

He was widely expected to seek a second term.

Several Democrats are considering seeking the nomination to challenge the 48-year-old governor, who faced criticism last year because of the topsy-turvy Florida ballot dispute that vaulted his brother into the White House. Some Democrats accused the governor of working behind the scenes to install his brother.

The list of potential Democratic challengers includes Reno, the former attorney general and Miami native; Pete Peterson, ambassador to Vietnam; and Bill McBride, an attorney with Florida's biggest law firm.

``You've got a great field of candidates who have a tremendous amount of credibility. They wouldn't be in these waters if they didn't smell blood,'' said state Democratic Party chairman Bob Poe.

Bush was elected overwhelmingly in 1998. He is trying to become Florida's first Republican governor since Reconstruction to win a second term.

``It's the No. 1 race nationally, even more so than the governorships of New York and California,'' said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. ``Everybody is watching because everybody knows who he is. Everybody has a searing recollection of the Florida recount in 2000.''

Bush, speaking to reporters after visiting an elementary school, said the 2000 presidential election would have no bearing on his campaign. Two protesters held signs nearby and yelled, ``Don't steal this election!''

``I'm going to stay focused on Florida,'' Bush said.

A poll taken by The Miami Herald in late May, after Reno said she was considering a bid for governor, found Bush ahead by 49 percent to 43 percent. The telephone poll of 600 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Reno, who lives in Miami, has kept supporters guessing as she ponders a race for governor. Reno has said she will make her decision shortly. She was in Albuquerque, N.M., on Friday and did not immediately return a call.

President Bush dropped a hint on his brother's plans earlier in the week during a trip to Florida. At an event in Tampa, the president referred to Jeb Bush as the ``current governor and the future governor.''

Gov. Bush said he would work to protect the environment, provide social services ``in a compassionate way,'' give tax relief to small businesses and continue an overhaul of the school system. Under Bush, Florida has created a program under which students at the state's worst schools are issued vouchers to attend private school at taxpayer expense.

``There's a window of opportunity in our state to really change the things that need to be changed,'' Bush said.

Last month, the governor condemned Internet rumors that he had an extramarital affair with an agency head, calling the gossip an ``outright lie.''

On Friday, he said of his decision to seek re-election: ``After the legislative session I had a chance to spend some time with my family and with my wife, who has been completely supportive of this.''

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