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Reno campaign: McBride’s lead shrinking

MIAMI – Bill McBride’s lead over Janet Reno in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary has dwindled to 4,677 votes, according to numbers released Sunday by the Reno campaign.

Reno campaign officials said Sunday they learned that the former U.S. attorney general has picked up a net increase of 3,519 votes in Miami-Dade County based on the rechecking of ballots cast in precincts that experienced technical problems.

Reno campaign manager Mo Elleithee said the new figures in Miami-Dade were based on the checking of 88 questionable precincts.

McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher disputed the figures, saying a “high-ranking source” in the Miami-Dade elections office told him Reno had picked up 1,000 fewer votes than reported by her campaign.

“It’s almost certain that Bill will wind up with more votes than Janet Reno,” Stonecipher said. “We hope closure comes Tuesday.”

Based on McBride’s 8,196-vote lead in unofficial totals, the new figures provided by Reno’s campaign would reduce his overall margin to 4,677 votes.

With fewer votes expected from Broward – the only place expected to turn up a significant number of new votes – it appears that it would be difficult for Reno to pick up about 4,700 votes and overtake McBride when official results are certified Tuesday.

Miami-Dade officials said they would not release details about the number of votes found until Tuesday, the state deadline. County Elections supervisor David Leahy refused to say how Reno’s campaign got the numbers or to guess if she could catch McBride.

“That gets at the politics. Not my area of expertise,” he said Sunday from a warehouse in Medley where workers were examining voting machines. Leahy said they wanted to check about 265 more machines.

“It doesn’t mean there are votes on them,” he said. “A lot … weren’t used.”

In Broward, workers continued to examine voting machines Sunday, but officials would not release the number of votes found. The county canvassing board has a meeting scheduled for Tuesday at 2 p.m. to certify the results.

Officials have said that Broward had less severe problems than Miami-Dade on election night, so fewer new votes were expected there.

Reno’s campaign, meanwhile, was building a case against Gov. Jeb Bush and the election reform law he signed last year, alleging the touchscreen voting machines caused votes to be lost.

The case, summarized in a document first obtained by The Miami Herald, would not be used to challenge the results of the primary, even if McBride is certified Tuesday as the nominee, Elleithee said.

Democrats have sought to blame Bush for the election problems. Former Vice President Al Gore told members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on Saturday: “I believe if I was governor of that state – after what happened two years ago – I would have fixed that by now.”

Bush campaign spokesman Todd Harris said: “Between shaking down Buddhist monks for campaign money and his pioneering work to invent the Internet, I doubt very seriously that Al Gore will have much time to contribute anything meaningful to the debate regarding south Florida’s election problems.”

Harris countered that the problems were caused by election officials in Broward and Miami-Dade.

“There are two elections officials in Southeast Florida whose entire job is to do nothing but make sure elections in their counties run smoothly. Both of them dropped the ball on Election Day, and the public understands who should be held accountable for it,” Harris said.

Reno campaign officials said there was little chance the dispute would go past Tuesday.

“There has to be, at some point, finality. The Democrats have to know who their nominee is,” said Reno general counsel Alan Greer.

Reno attended services Sunday in Liberty City, the heart of Miami’s black community. She did not address the election dispute in brief remarks to the congregation.

“I’ve come not just at election time. I’ve come to say thank you,” Reno said.

After church services, McBride spent Sunday working the phones about possible candidates for lieutenant governor, said Tony Welch, the state teachers’ union spokesman.