Reno keeps quiet on talk of run for U.S. Senate


Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 1:47 a.m.

MIAMI (AP) - Janet Reno says she is more occupied with fixing up her house and improving her kayaking than with considering a possible campaign for Congress if U.S. Sen. Bob Graham decides to run for president in 2004.

But the former U.S. attorney general, usually known for her straight talk, won't give a definite answer Tuesday on whether she is interested in returning to Washington.

"I'm not ruling it out and I'm not ruling it in," she said by phone. "In public life, I had a feeling I had to be as forthcoming as I could. ... Now, I'm just enjoying myself."

She says it's too early to be putting her name out there before Graham makes his decision. The Demoratic senator said this weekend that "it's not going to be very much longer" before he decides whether to run.

Florida law would bar Graham from running for both offices simultaneously but he would not need to file qualifying papers to run for re-election until the early summer of 2004. That would give him time to drop his presidential bid if it falters and still run for the Senate.

But if he campaigns for the White House, some prominent state Democrats feel Reno would be a good candidate for their party as it tries to regain a majority in the Senate in 2004.

"Janet Reno has an awful lot to bring to the table ... she has been an outstanding public servant," said incoming state Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox.

Still, there remains the bitter memory of her narrow loss to Bill McBride in the Democratic primary for governor last year.

"In order for someone to win the Democratic nomination (for Senate), they will have to be well organized, well financed and well managed," said Mitchell Berger, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer and key Democratic fund-raiser. "The fact that neither of the Democratic campaigns did that in the gubernatorial race, I think there are lessons to be learned from that."

Richard Swann, who was McBride's chief fund-raiser, sees Reno as one of a "plethora" of solid Democratic candidates, but thought others might have a better chance.

"Fresh faces have always been favored in Florida politics," he said. "It's been rare that the person that starts out with huge name identification ends up with the nomination."

Reno would face a competitive field of Democrats for the nomination. Some possible candidates mentioned by party members include former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and U.S. Reps. Peter Deutsch and Alcee Hastings.

Deutsch, D-Hollywood, has $2.5 million in campaign funds, the most of any Florida congressman, ahead of U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-West Palm Beach, with $1.8 million.

Hastings and Foley have expressed interest in running for Graham's seat if it becomes available.

If Reno were nominated, potential Republican candidates such as Foley and U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez would present even more of a threat to her with a popular GOP governor, Jeb Bush, in office, said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor.

Also, the primary in September showed that many Floridians pigeonhole Reno as a liberal, tainted with the scandals of Bill Clinton and the controversy of Elian Gonzalez, Jewett said.

"If you want to win statewide elections in Florida, you have to come across as a moderate," he said.

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