McBride Fund-raises in New York

Florida Democrat Bill McBride brought his gubernatorial campaign to New York on Friday, seeking last-minute cash in his effort to oust the well-financed brother of the president.

At a breakfast hosted by former Sen. Bob Kerrey and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, supporters made clear they saw the contest as a race against both Gov. Jeb Bush and President Bush.

"It's a hard task for a challenger, running not just against the governor but against the president, too," said Kerrey, now president of the New School University.

The race has become unexpectedly close, with a recent poll showing the candidates in a statistical dead heat despite Bush's larger war chest.

A Bush defeat would be an embarrassment to the president, who campaigned in Florida on Thursday. Democrats, still bitter over the loss of the 2000 presidential election, are also eyeing Florida's 27 electoral votes for 2004.

"You know it's big if Bill McBride wins this," Nelson told about two dozen McBride supporters at Club 21. "It has a foretelling of what will happen in the '04 presidential race, and so all the more reason that the stakes are exceptionally high."

With less than three weeks before Election Day, McBride and his staff were on a whirlwind 26-hour trip that also included stops in Washington and Connecticut, where they were to attend a fund-raising luncheon with former President Clinton.

New York Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe said McBride expects to net $1 million at the events. Democrats have raised $11 million for the race to date and expect to finish at about $16 million.

Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to raise about $40 million for Jeb Bush's campaign.

Poe said the campaign is spending money as fast as it comes in. "There's no reason to save it," he said.