Chiles III brings a potent name to race for governor

Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 2:21 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - What's in a name? Maybe a political future.
As Lawton ''Bud'' Chiles III moves ahead with a Democratic gubernatorial campaign, political strategists say Chiles' name may give him an initial boost, but he faces a difficult task running as a novice politician in a large, fast-changing state.
Political names have helped others. Gov. Jeb Bush, who never held political office before his election in 1998, may be the best example. Newly elected U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fort Myers, the son of former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, is another success story.
But others have tried to ride the popularity of a well-known political name and have failed. Doug Gallagher, the brother of state Treasurer Tom Gallagher, finished a distant third in last year's Republican Senate primary.
Chiles, the son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles who died in 1998, said he is prepared to formally launch his campaign for the 2006 race shortly, while acknowledging that his name will only get him so far.
''I've got a lot of hard work in front of me,'' he said. ''I need to get out there and spend a lot of time, county by county, community by community.''
After leaving Tallahassee while his father was governor, Chiles spent nearly a decade working for Hope Worldwide, an international faith-based charity. He worked on education and health care programs for communities ranging from the inner cities of America to Africa and Haiti. More recently, Chiles has run an Orlando-based development firm.
Some Democrats say although Chiles has never held a political office, his name combined with the political experience he has had as the son of a popular three-term U.S. senator and two-term governor will be valuable assets.
''Lawton Chiles is a magic name among Democrats,'' said Joe Geller, mayor of North Bay Village and the former Democratic chairman of Miami-Dade County. ''His father had a tremendous reputation for integrity and also a sensitivity for people's needs.''
Geller had dinner with Chiles and his wife, Kitty, this week as Chiles met with Democrats in the state's largest county. Geller said he came away impressed with Chiles' preparation for the campaign.
Ron Sachs, a Tallahassee media consultant who served as Gov. Chiles' communications director, said Chiles gained invaluable political experience as the son of ''Walkin' Lawton,'' who won the 1970 U.S. Senate race after a 1,000-mile walk across the state.
''If you look at the old footage of his dad walking across the state in 1970, you see the tousled, blond-haired Bud Chiles walking alongside his dad,'' Sachs said. ''He certainly has the political pedigree, if not the political resume.''
Republicans said they welcomed Chiles to what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field for governor that could also include former Education Commissioner Betty Castor, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, state Sen. Rod Smith of Alachua and state Party Chairman Scott Maddox, among others.
Joseph Agostini, a spokesman for the state GOP, said the value of Chiles' name is ''tough to gauge'' in a fast-changing state that has become much more Republican than in the days when Chiles' father was among the state's top leaders.
''It has some weight, but to win a political race you certainly have to run on more than a name,'' he said.
He also said whoever the Democrats nominate, they will face a ''formidable'' Republican candidate who will emerge from a field that is likely to include Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, Treasurer Tom Gallagher and Attorney General Charlie Crist.
A Republican political consultant, who asked not to be named, said the test for all the gubernatorial candidates will be their ability to raise money.
That point was underscored in last year's U.S. Senate race, where the two general election candidates, U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez and Castor, raised and spent more than $20 million between them.
''Can (Chiles) raise the money?'' the consultant asked. ''I think it's going to be hard.''
Chiles' father was famous for his own self-imposed limits on campaign contributions. In his 1970 race, he took only $10 from each contributor.
He later reluctantly raised that limit to $100 per person, which Chiles used through his last campaign in 1994 when he narrowly beat Jeb Bush in his re-election bid.
Bud Chiles said he is considering a similar limit on his contributions, although he hasn't decided on a level.
Candidates, under state law, can accept up to $500 from each contributor for each election.
Chiles said he wants to set ''a fairly low threshold'' to allow more people to participate in the campaign, while at the same time conveying the message that he is campaigning differently in order to govern differently.
Chiles said he wants to be ''a change agent from the way things are working now in terms of money, power and politics.''
Geller said Chiles can look to the example of presidential candidate Howard Dean, who used the Internet to collect small contributions from a large base of supporters ''It's been shown that an awful lot of small donations can more than match the big donations,'' he said.
Chiles is also expected to use another of his father's campaigning techniques: walking through communities and talking to people. But that doesn't necessarily mean he is going to replicate his father's historic 1,000-mile journey.
''I'm definitely going to imitate his values,'' Chiles said. ''I don't know if I'll exactly imitate his techniques.''
Chiles said he expects to visit each of the state's 67 counties and develop a political organization. He also said, like his father, he is not afraid to embrace nontraditional campaign strategies.
''It's not a conventional campaign,'' Chiles said. ''But I wasn't raised to run a conventional campaign.''

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