MIAMI — Maybe it wasn’t quite as hard as they thought it would be.
But just minutes after the 7 p.m. closing of the polls in Florida, several hundred Jeb Bush supporters declared victory and started the festivities at his party in Miami.
Who could blame them for being excited? Bush received a substantial scare from Democratic challenger Bill McBride. But after coming out of nowhere and drawing within a few percentage points of Bush, McBride faded in the final weeks of the campaign, finally losing by 17 percent of the vote. Many attribute this decline to a poor showing in the final gubernatorial debate on Oct. 22.
The merrymaking in Miami continued for more than three hours until an image of McBride appeared on a video screen and was greeted with a chorus of boos. As he announced his concession, the crowd, many waving bright red banners containing the simple message “Jeb!” broke into a roar of pleasure.
Moments later, Bush, who now holds the distinction of being the first Republican governor in Florida history elected for a second term, strutted onto stage where he met his father, former president George Bush, and mother Barbara.
After being introduced by his father, Bush took the podium and, in a voice worn by weeks of campaigning, thanked his family and those who aided his campaign.
He said he also thanked his opponent during a brief telephone conversation.
“I told him he ran a hard race, and I look forward to working with him to build a better Florida,” Bush said of McBride.
Bush said he now wants to unite Florida to fight for common goals.
Bush told his supporters that he believes a lot has been accomplished during his first term, but that there is much more to be done. The governor then gave a brief overview of the important points of his campaign, beginning with, not surprisingly, education.
“I passionately believe this: that we can make sure every third grader is reading at a third-grade level,” Bush said.
Bush said he believes his goals in education can be accomplished by improving conditions for teachers, encouraging mentoring and assuring that students are learning to read.
Bush said he will encourage job growth by creating economic diversity. He said he wants to “protect limited government.”
“I (want to) create a climate where families can prevail and their quality of life can be advanced,” Bush said. “I (want to) create a climate that is the envy of the country.”
While his parents proudly looked on, Bush thanked his brother, President George W. Bush. The president campaigned hard for the governor, leaving no doubts as to the importance of Florida in the broader scope of national politics. And, after a strong day for state Republicans, President Bush’s campaign for re-election, still more than a year away from beginning, has gotten a boost from the fourth-largest state.
As his roughly 10-minute-long address ended, Gov. Bush thanked his supporters in both English and Spanish.
“I will not let you down,” Bush said as his parting comment.
As Bush’s address concluded, balloons fell from the ceiling and confetti flew through the air. The governor jumped from the stage into the waiting crowd, where he spent the next 15 minutes shaking hands, hidden in the mob.