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Gubernatorial race enters final month

How could we expect anything less in Florida?
With the race for governor entering its final month, Bill McBride has drawn close enough to Jeb Bush to make him sweat.Whether he will be able to overtake the incumbent, however, is a different matter.
If anything could be taken from Fridayís first of three debates between the two candidates, itís that the major issue during the remainder of the race will be education.
But is that really a surprise for a state that seems to routinely finish as one of the worst in the nation with one of the lowest high school graduation rates? Four years ago, Bushís platforms included a hefty dose of education reforms.
The only thing Bush and McBride seem to agree upon is that there needs to be more done in education. Otherwise, their philosophies are completely different.
McBride has heavily criticized Bush for his handling of the education system during his term. On the college level, Bush has seen power transferred from a state Board of Regents to individual university Board of Trustees. Additionally, Bush has seen heavy rounds of university budget cuts. According to USF straw poll results, these factors may have affected Bushís perception among college students.
For public elementary, middle and high schools, Bush has stood by his voucher plan while opposing an amendment that could lower class sizes.
McBride supports smaller classes and describes to anyone who will listen the way in which Bush has led Floridaís educational system into what he calls a ìstate of crisis.î
The problem for McBride may be that, besides education, nobody seems to know any of his other platforms. And while education has been a struggle for Bush, it may not be enough for McBride to ride all the way to Tallahassee.
A recent state poll conducted jointly by the Miami Herald and St. Petersburg Times suggests that the approval rating for Bushís handling of public education is virtually split and has edged slowly back toward approval. Thatís not what McBride wants to hear.
Also, many college students who are disillusioned by budget cuts are in support of McBride. However, that demographic is notorious for its poor showing at the polls.
McBride may have still a further problem in the coming weeks that will test his troubleshooting abilities. He has been accused by Republicans of accepting illegal campaign contributions to produce a commercial spot largely credited in helping him secure the Democratic nomination. The money came from a secret group and investigation has been ordered by the Florida Elections Commission.
This provides a touchy area for Bush, as well as McBride. If Bush attacks McBride for the commercial, it may appear as though he is trying to turn people away from the issues. On the other hand, if Bush can prove wrongdoing, it will allow him to easily earn re-election.
And while education is the current hot topic of discussion, Florida often comes down to the senior citizen vote. Bush lost his 1994 bid for governor to Lawton Chiles, who took much of that demographic. The same problem might have proved to be an obstacle for Bush had Janet Reno won the nomination, but with McBride, it seems a little less certain.
With two debates remaining during this final month, both candidates have time to sway voters. McBride needs to polish his routine and emphasize platforms beyond education, while Bush needs to explain clearly how he has improved education and his future goals for the stateís system.
Either way, it looks like the final vote will be close. This is Florida, after all.

Contact Rob Brannonat