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Tuesday, 5 November, 2002, 15:31 GMT
Battle lines drawn again in Florida
Florida Governor Jeb Bush with a supporter holding a placard in Florida
Jeb Bush has a small, but tenuous, lead
One of the most contentious, and most bitter, contests in the US mid-terms is the battle for Florida's governorship.

Democratic candidate for Florida governorship, Bill McBride
McBride: Looking to capitalise on the minority vote
Although the election is not connected to the battle for power in Congress, it could be a telling indicator of political sentiment among voters.

Current Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of the US president, is up for re-election, with most recent polls indicating that he has a modest lead over Democratic rival Bill McBride, a lawyer and political novice.

But this could change, and for both parties, winning the state has become a personal issue.

Settling scores

Republican and Democratic supporters have aggressively targeted the state, Republicans to ensure their stronghold does not fall and Democrats to settle the score following the 2000 presidential election.

Bush supporter protesting the 2000 recount in Florida
The 2000 presidential election debacle led to bitter recriminations

The sunshine state is clouded by bitter memories of the presidential race, where weeks of recounts, allegations of voter fraud and often vicious legal battles ultimately ended in George W Bush narrowly winning against Democrat Al Gore.

Many Democrats felt it was no coincidence that their candidate's loss came in a state so closely allied to Mr Bush.

In the past few weeks, the state has been visited by some of the Democrat political heavyweights, including former President Bill Clinton and Mr Gore, all urging their supporters to right what they say was a grievous wrong against the party.

President Bush has also campaigned exhaustively on behalf of his brother, who benefited hugely from the fundraising rallies he attended.

Systems overhaul

Stung by the humiliating weeks of recounts following the 2000 vote, Florida spent $32m setting up the new computerised voting system, for use in more than half of the state's polling stations.


After all these years in which the black vote has faced denial and disenfranchisement those [voters] will determine the election

Jesse Jackson
But problems erupted again in the state's September primary elections, when the new systems caused problems, leading once again to recounts in the race for the Democratic nominee for governor, eventually won by Mr McBride.

In October, President Bush signed a law which will entail the spending of more than $3.9bn over the next three years to prevent such a crisis happening again.

For the mid-terms, to ensure there is no repeat of either debacle, federal election observers have now been sent to the state.

Blacks anger

One of the most controversial aspects of the 2000 election was the claim that black voters in Florida had been deliberately denied votes.

A damning report by the US Commission on Civil Rights found that black voters in the state were nearly 10 times more likely than white voters to have had their ballots rejected in the 2000 election.

On Tuesday, veteran civil rights leader, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, urged black voters - who comprise 11% of Florida's ethnic make-up - to exercise their voting rights to prevent 2000's "intentional targeting" of black voters.

"After all these years in which the black vote has faced denial and disenfranchisement those [voters] will determine the election," he said.

To counter, Jeb Bush has courted Florida's growing Puerto Rican and Cuban-American communities. However, he has faced awkward questions over the recent detention of 200 Haitian refugees.

Both he and Mr McBride have assiduously courted Florida's huge retiree community on the issues of prescription drugs and investment taxes.

Analysts say that Mr McBride could reap considerable benefits, despite Mr Bush's nominal lead.

But perhaps the only thing one can say for certain about the Florida governor race it that the outcome is far from certain at all.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matt Frei reports
"Much of Florida is, as ever, far too preoccupied with itself"

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15 Oct 02 | Americas
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