Florida 2004: The State of 'Brotherly Love'

A state of "brotherly love" has been declared in Florida, where Gov. Jeb Bush (search) is heading up the 2004 presidential re-election campaign of his older sibling, George W. Bush.

The governor's role could help cement the state for the president, who squeaked by in Florida in 2000 to win the Electoral College and the election.

"In terms of [President Bush's] brother, you would have to say, on net, it is a positive because his brother [Jeb] still has a pretty good favorable rating in the state, he's a fairly popular fella himself," said Larry Harris, a principal with Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. (search)

Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove (search), said in a recent interview that the president's campaign strategy for Florida will be a combination of "brotherly love" and an effort to "register, identify and turn out our vote.

"This clearly is going to be ground zero," Rove said.

"The campaign will have to be run like any other swing state … if it's a close national election,  [Bush] will be fighting for every point. Conceivably, Florida, once again could be very close," said Ron Faucheux, political analyst and editor of The Faucheux Analysis (search).

More than one month after the 2000 election ended, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered county election officials to stop what they deemed an inconsistent hand recount of ballots, in effect, affirming the 535-vote lead by then-Texas Gov. Bush over his rival, former Vice President Al Gore.

While Florida is expected to once again be a battleground in 2004, neither side is taking a chance at re-enacting the 2000 battle for the state's 27 electoral votes. Bush has already visited Florida more than 10 times since taking office.

"The biggest lesson [of 2000] is [that] a state as huge as Florida can be won or lost by a handful of votes," said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway, a former Gore campaign spokesman. "Even big states can be swung either way by a few thousand or a few hundred votes so we've got to knock on that many more doors to identify as many voters as possible. It's expensive and it's time consuming, but we've got to do it."

Democratic National Committee spokesman Tony Welch said his party needs one thing to win the state in 2004.

"We honestly think all we need to do to win Florida is count all the votes," he said.

"No one's kidding themselves, it is going to be a neck-and-neck race," Welch added.

The Bush-Cheney campaign, with brother Jeb at the helm in Florida, will focus on registering new voters, organizing grassroots efforts and spreading Bush's message through the state, said Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel. That message will focus on strengthening the economy and the nation's education system, winning the war on terror and modernizing the nation's health care system.

"Obviously, we're expecting a close race throughout the nation in 2004 and Florida," Stanzel said. "We are a divided nation, politically, that's why we're raising resources."

At the end of the third quarter of this year, the Bush-Cheney campaign had raised over $83.9 million to help expand the gap between Bush and his prospective Democratic opponent.

According to a Mason-Dixon poll released in July, 58 percent of Florida voters rate Bush's overall performance as "excellent" or "good."

A June Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel poll found that in a general election match-up between Bush and Florida Sen. Bob Graham, a Democrat who since dropped out of the presidential running, the president earned 53 percent of the vote.

Democratic strategists say that it's too early to make hypothetical comparisons between Bush and a would-be nominee. Instead, they are concentrating on their own message.

"The main thing Democrats need to do for Florida is to articulate an exit strategy for Iraq and a job creation strategy for America," Hattaway said. "Florida's different, has it's southern elements but in the main, is a diverse, eastern state where people are concerned about the loss of jobs and the quagmire in Iraq and those issues are going to overshadow everything else."

The hand Jeb Bush plays could have serious impact in the Sunshine State. Having easily won re-election in 2002, in part thanks to a strong get-out-the-vote effort, the governor is a popular official who answers constituent e-mails on a regular basis and meets with voters around the state. He has been wildly successful raising money for various state Republican parties —- money that can be spent indirectly to help his presidential sibling.

"Really, I think it's a big plus unless his brother does something between now and next year that severely affects his [Jeb's] popularity," Faucheux said.

"What better contact for the [state] government than having your brother be president?" Harris added.

But Welch said if the governor's chairmanship of the president's 2000 campaign is an indication, Jeb Bush will have little impact on the race.

"If that was going to make things more different, then we wouldn't have had a race that was so close last time around," he said.