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Republican questions 'legitimacy' of McBride win

Reno statewide recount request rejected

McBride: Challenges Bush to debate on flatbed truck traveling around the state.  

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- Republicans appear poised to make the Democrats' marred gubernatorial primary a campaign issue this fall, a GOP congressman said Friday, calling into question the "legitimacy" of Bill McBride's victory over Janet Reno.

"His legitimacy is definitely in question," Rep. Mark Foley, R-Florida, said of McBride.

In a written statement, Foley also accused Democrats of hypocrisy, saying they were not making a big deal over the primary day glitches involving some machines because they did not want to help Reno -- viewed by some pundits as the weaker candidate against Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Two years ago, Democrats went to court in a protracted post-Election Day battle between Al Gore and George Bush, demanding a recount in some counties because, they said, some ballots had not been properly counted.

"I watched the Democrats scream that 'every vote counts'. Now, where's the outrage?" Foley asked. "Doesn't every vote count now? Or is voter suppression acceptable only when it helps a favored Democrat?"

Reno's campaign had requested a statewide manual recount of ballots cast in Tuesday's problem-plagued Democratic primary for governor, which unofficial returns show she lost by less than 8,200 votes to Tampa attorney Bill McBride.

But the office of Secretary of State Jim Smith decided Friday not to grant the recount because the margin of victory for McBride was not close enough to trigger an automatic statewide recount. The state canvassing board certified McBride as the winner Thursday afternoon.

Under state law, Reno was not entitled to an automatic statewide recount unless the margin was less than one-half of 1 percent.

In-Depth: The Race for Governor 

Two years after election problems in Florida drew international attention and withering criticism, Tuesday's election was again plagued by delayed poll openings and technical glitches, particularly in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Voting was extended for two hours statewide because of the problems.

Reno's campaign Thursday asked elections officials in Miami-Dade County, a Reno stronghold, to review the accuracy of vote totals reported in 81 precincts -- including an examination of new touch-screen electronic voting equipment.

"The right to vote is one of the most precious possessions we have," she said at an evening news conference. "I think the first thing we must do is get the votes counted. And we're in the process of watching that happen in Dade County."

Reno had to wait more than an hour Tuesday to cast her own vote Tuesday because of problems with voting equipment.

Reno's campaign manager, Mo Elleithee, said the campaign also is looking at possible problems elsewhere, including Broward County, another Reno stronghold, where one precinct reported no voters casting ballots at all.

Reno reaches out to McBride

With less than eight weeks to go before the general election, Reno said she does not think her refusal to concede would divide the Democratic Party or Jeb Bush, the president's brother. Polls show Bush well ahead of both Reno and McBride.

"I think the party will be united as never before because the people will understand that the Democratic Party cares about the electoral process," Reno said.

Reno would not comment on what steps the campaign might take beyond its request to review voting in Miami-Dade County, although she said, "As soon as the votes get counted, if it's appropriate for me to concede as the runner-up, I'll be happy to do so."

She said it would not be "practical" to have a new election.

Thursday evening, McBride went before cheering supporters in Tampa to accept the canvassing board's decision and declare victory.

McBride turned his fire on Bush, asked that the governor travel around the state with him on the back of a flatbed truck "from Pensacola to Key West" debating issues and answering voters' questions.

"I'm serious about it. Get your jeans on," McBride said.

Reno, much better known than McBride at the beginning of the campaign, led throughout most of the race for the Democratic nomination. But he surged in the final weeks of the campaign to pull off the apparent upset.

Democrats, Republicans trade blame

After the 2000 race, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature overhauled the state's election laws and required counties using the punch-card systems, including Miami-Dade and Broward, to replace them with new electronic machines.

But with Tuesday's problems keeping the outcome of the Democratic gubernatorial race hanging in the air, Republicans and Democrats have begun trading charges about just who is responsible.

Both Bush and Smith, whom the governor appointed secretary of state, have criticized local elections officials in Miami-Dade and Broward counties for the problems.

On Thursday, the governor asked Smith to conduct a "fact-finding" investigation to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it before the November election.

"We put more money into the budgets to upgrade the machines and for training," Bush said. "The state has done its part. We responded to the 2000 election. And [what happened Tuesday] is unconscionable."

Reno: The Democratic Party
Reno: The Democratic Party "wants its people's votes to be counted."  

But Reno blasted Bush for not doing more to ensure Tuesday's election ran properly.

"Governor Bush abdicated. He said it's not his problem. But he is the chief executive officer of this state, and there are no laws more important in this state than election laws," Reno said.




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