Governor rallies support for brother's re-election


Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 12:24 a.m.
MIAMI - Gov. Jeb Bush rallied an army of new volunteers to his brother's re-election campaign Saturday, asking for their help in the state that decided the 2000 presidential election.
"Think of the difference that you made. Reflect on what the world would look like if George W. Bush was not president of the United States right now instead of Al Gore," Bush said as activists booed the mention of the former vice president's name.
"Think about it. Your taxes would be higher. I believe the economy would be in worse shape because there would not have been tax relief. The government would be bigger - not necessarily better," Bush said. "Saddam Hussein - we'd still be talking to the United Nations about Saddam Hussein and his brutality."
Bush spoke during a training meeting for more than 500 volunteers in South Florida to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
It was the 12th regional meeting in Florida, where organizers are working to assemble about 70,000 volunteers and between 2,000 and 3,000 trained local leaders to build a powerful grass-roots operation to re-elect President Bush.
Both parties are planning a massive organization to secure Florida's 27 electoral votes after Bush narrowly carried the state in 2000. The Supreme Court stopped the 2000 recount of Florida ballots after five weeks, with Bush ahead of Gore by just 537 votes out of 6 million cast.
While the Democratic presidential field courts voters in key primary states, Bush-Cheney officials are building a campaign structure with the goal of turning out 80 percent of registered Republicans in the state while mobilizing thousands of volunteers to persuade their neighbors, register new voters, and spread the president's message in local newspapers and radio talk shows.
"It gives us the opportunity, while the rest of these guys are deciding who their champion is going to be, of lining up our supporters and our organization behind a very solid, well-organized ground game effort," said Brett Doster, the Bush-Cheney campaign manager in Florida.
Kerri Arnold, a Sunrise middle school teacher volunteering for the Bush campaign, said she planned to knock on doors in her neighborhood, call friends about the campaign and set up a voter registration drive at her local gym. The daughter of two Democrats, this is Arnold's first foray into presidential politics.
"I'm proud of the job he's done," Arnold said.
Democrats have also vowed to mount a competitive grassroots campaign in the state. Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe has said the party would generate an unprecedented voter turnout in Florida while state party leaders develop programs to turn out core voters and reach out to independents and unaligned voters.
"We will have an army of people ready to go out and talk about the Democratic message," said state Democratic chairman Scott Maddox.
Indeed, Republicans told the fresh recruits that they expect the election in Florida to be closely contested again. While the GOP holds power throughout state government and dominates the Florida congressional delegation, Democrats have more registered voters and generated an impressive turnout machine in 2000.
"This year will be a very difficult year," said state Rep. Gaston Cantens, R-Miami. "Many issues are going be used to try to drive wedges within our party - to drive us apart, to separate us and cause us to be indifferent. ... As we saw in the 2000 election, every vote counts, every vote is important. Indifference is the greatest enemy that we will face this year."
Analysts said the Bush-Cheney grassroots operation could be unprecedented in its scope - reaching out to local activists in every neighborhood through e-mails, door-knocking and yard signs. It would also supplement an aggressive fund-raising campaign that has already netted more than $130 million.
"It's very difficult to do and if they pull it off it will be one for the textbooks," said Jim Krog, a Democratic strategist who managed the campaign of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles. "It will change the way people view politics because they're running for the presidency almost like they're running for the city council."
The Florida campaign will again provide a showcase for the Bush brothers - Gov. Bush will serve as chairman of his brother's campaign here. Bush called the president a "person of action. He says what he's going to do and then he does what he says he's going to do."
"Friend and foe alike know exactly where George W. Bush stands. I don't think my brother is ever going to be an ambassador to France or to the United Nations," Bush said. "He's a plainspoken man that speaks from his heart."

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