TAMPA — Around 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Bill McBride’s staff, volunteers, supporters and family filed into the Westshore Marriott’s Grand Ballroom to await his speech. It was a speech, however, they did not want to hear: McBride’s concession.
As McBride entered the room, he shook hands, hugged his friends and thanked everyone for their support. Claps and screams of “Bill, Bill, Bill” and “You’re still our governor!” were chanted despite the disappointment.
“I’m proud and pleased about the race, and there is more love in this room than I deserve,” McBride said.
A gubernatorial race that was closely watched across the country declared incumbent Republican Jeb Bush the next governor of Florida with 56.2 percent over McBride’s 43 percent.
“It has been a wonderful experience, and I called the governor and congratulated him and wished him well,” McBride said.
McBride said in a speech that lasted about 10 minutes that he thinks his campaign brought the important issues to the table and that the governor needs support to make sure the future of the state succeeds.
“We need to treat Florida like a family, and I think that the agenda was moved into the right place in this race largely because of the efforts of all of you and myself to talk about the issues and what is good for the people of Florida,” he said.
The race, considered significant in determining the future of the 2004 presidential election, had voters heading to the polls Tuesday re-electing Bush.
Susan MacManus, a USF political science professor, said Florida’s governor’s race between McBride and Bush has gained national attention and is a crucial state in presidential politics.
“This race has been No. 1 since the beginning,” she said. “Any presidential candidate knows you need Florida to win.”
McBride, a Tampa lawyer from the state’s largest law firm, Holland & Knight, is also a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War. Throughout his campaign, McBride faced criticism from Bush about his ideas for a cigarette tax and education spending.
Dave Cutler, a junior majoring in political science at USF, said the Bush win is based on a lie in the negative advertisements.
“All Bush does is lie, cheat and steal,” Cutler said. “Their campaign was so negative.”
Cutler, who volunteered with the McBride campaign, said he thought McBride’s concession was a good one and that he still “loves and respects him.”
“I’m hopeful for 2006,” Cutler said. “Bush didn’t win the first time he tried in 1994, but I am truly scared for this state for the next four years.”
Six months ago, McBride was a no-name trailing former United States Attorney General Janet Reno in the Democratic primary election. However, McBride overcame the odds and beat Reno, who, at the time, had slim odds of beating Bush. McBride’s upset over Reno in September brought energy and expectations of becoming the next governor of Florida.
McBride smiled when the crowd started to chant “2006,” and “Do it again,” but did not make any comment. Instead he encouraged his supporters to come to reality and support Bush.
“Take the high road and enjoy the fruits of Florida,” he said. “Let’s get on and make everything work for everyone.”