JANET RENO opens bid for Democratic nomination for Florida governor


Tuesday, September 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



MIAMI (AP) _ Former Attorney General Janet Reno officially began her bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday, saying the people of Florida want a governor who is not afraid of making tough decisions.

Reno spoke to reporters outside her southwest Miami-Dade County home hours after opening a campaign fund in Tallahassee.

``I've spent the last three months talking to people all across Florida, and I think they share my vision for Florida _ building the best educational system in the country, preserving our environment, managing our growth and standing up for our elders,'' she said.

Reno said Floridians want a governor ``who's not afraid to make the hard decision, to stand up for those decisions.''

``I have decided I can best serve the people of the state of Florida by seeking the office of governor,'' Reno said.

The paperwork opening Reno's campaign account was filed by friend and adviser Gary Barron at the state elections office.

The filing, which sets up a potential matchup with the president's brother, Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, allows Reno to raise money and hire staff.

Barron, former deputy treasurer of the Democratic National Committee, wouldn't estimate how much money was needed.

``We don't anticipate there will be any problem raising the amount of funds required,'' he said. ``We're off and running.''

Polls have shown Reno beating other Democrats seeking the Democratic nomination in September 2002, but losing to Bush, who said in June he would seek re-election.

Bush, who was elected in 1998, is vying to become the state's first Republican governor to win re-election.

The race would generate national attention after the governor's brother defeated Al Gore following the protracted 2000 presidential election in Florida.

``The governor is not focused on any of the Democratic candidates. He will remain focused on doing the best job that he can for the people of Florida,'' said Karen Unger, a Bush campaign spokeswoman.

Other Democrats who have filed to run include former Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson, state Sen. Daryl Jones, House Minority Leader Lois Frankel, lawyer Bill McBride and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis.

``I think it's good that the attention can turn away from the question of whether she will run and now to which Democrat is the best candidate for governor,'' Frankel said.

Since May, Reno has traveled throughout the state in her red pickup truck, talking to voters about a potential candidacy.

Some of the controversies that dogged her during the Clinton administration could resurface, including the assault at Waco in 1993 and her approval of the seizure of Elian Gonzalez from the home of his Miami relatives last year.

``She will have to decide whether she'll follow the Gore path or the un-Gore path,'' said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. ``Will she try to separate herself from Clinton or will she embrace her boss of 7 1/2 years? She cannot tread that line.''

Reno, 63, was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1995 but has said the disease would not prevent her from serving as governor.

The Miami native was elected Dade County's state attorney five times. The race for governor would represent her first statewide campaign for public office.

Florida has never elected a woman governor, but Reno has broken through glass ceilings before. She was the first female attorney general in U.S. history and the first woman to serve as a state attorney in Florida.

A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research poll in late July found that Reno would easily win the primary but would lose to Bush 54 percent to 39 percent in the general election. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

With only 7 percent of those surveyed undecided, some Democrats have worried that Reno would not appeal to swing voters crucial in a state that was almost evenly divided during the 2000 presidential election.

``I don't think a poll taken now can tell you an awful lot about the election,'' said Buddy MacKay, a Democrat who served as governor for 23 days after the death of Gov. Lawton Chiles in December 1998. ``The primary will be a year from now. Who knows what will transpire between now and then.''