Chiles expected to exit Florida governor’s race
Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 12:22 a.m.
Florida’s wild gubernatorial race appeared on the verge of another big turn Tuesday — one that could significantly benefit Democratic nominee Alex Sink.
Lawton “Bud” Chiles III, the son of one of Florida’s most iconic political figures, is expected to drop his independent bid for governor by Thursday, The News Service of Florida reported, citing several sources close to Chiles’ campaign.
Chiles’ campaign did not return calls seeking comment. Attempts to reach Chiles, or his brother Ed Chiles, who lives in Manatee County, were unsuccessful. But the news service, citing anonymous sources, said Chiles would officially withdraw Thursday in Tallahassee.
The decision brings relief to Democrats who feared he would spoil their chances to win the governor’s mansion for the first time since Chiles’ father, Lawton, held the office in the 1990s.
Chiles was running as an independent, but Democrats assumed that because of his family ties and populist positions, he would pull more votes from Sink than from Republican Rick Scott in November.
Sink spokeswoman Kyra Jennings declined to comment on reports of Chiles dropping out.
Particularly concerning for Democrats was that Chiles would attract support in rural Florida, where his father was immensely popular. The elder Chiles, known for his Florida cracker sayings, was a U.S. senator for 18 years and then governor for almost eight years before he died in late 1998 in his last month in office.
Bud Chiles’ departure could not come at a better time for Sink, who has had some good breaks going into the fall election.
Scott is just emerging from a bitter Republican primary with Bill McCollum. After their three-month television ad war, Scott’s unfavorable ratings in public polling have never been higher. More than 40 percent of registered voters in Florida say they have an unfavorable view of Scott, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Aug. 19. Just 15 percent had an unfavorable view of Sink.
Sink recently released a pair of television commercials in which she tries to cast herself as the political outsider in anticipation of Scott trying to label her as an insider.
Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, said in a Fox News interview earlier this week that based on Sink’s first commercials, she is “running the best statewide campaign of any of the candidates.”
But the early momentum is just that — early.
Scott, a hospital company executive who has spent more than $50 million already on his campaign for governor, has promised to pour more into the race against Sink.
And he has spent the last several days making public appearances with former Gov. Jeb Bush and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in an effort to encourage party unity following the Aug. 24 primary election.
During Bud Chiles’ first three months on the campaign, he denied he was a spoiler candidate who would hurt Sink. Though others gave him little chance to win, Bud Chiles said in a campaign stop in early August that he was in the campaign to win and that he was expecting to draw support from Democrats and Republicans.
Unlike his father, Bud Chiles has never held public office. Instead, the 57-year-old went into private business, first with a public relations firm he ran in Tallahassee for more than 15 years and then several real estate businesses.
Bud Chiles frequently invoked the name of his famous father on the campaign trail, recalling the famous 1970 campaign when his father walked across the state of Florida. It was a journey that earned the elder Chiles the moniker, “Walkin’ Lawton.”
Bud Chiles said it was in that same populist spirit that he was determined to not accept donations over $250.
Bud Chiles said he wanted to make sure average Floridians had more of a voice in politics, like his father tried to do with his walk.
But fundraising showed Chiles’ campaign was not catching on. Chiles had raised just under $100,000 for his campaign, with about one-quarter of it coming from his own pocket.