PENSACOLA, Pa. – Janet Reno's little red pickup truck was revved up to begin a 15-day drive across the state Tuesday on a road she hopes will lead to Florida's governorship.
The Democratic candidate planned to begin her drive from the Florida Panhandle to Miami at the state's welcome station on Interstate 10 near the Alabama-Florida state line.
The truck tour will include a mix of rallies and visits to schools, universities, health care centers, diners and gas stations.
With polls showing Reno trailing Republican Gov. Jeb Bush in a head-to-head matchup, the former U.S. attorney general is looking for a way to jump-start her campaign.
"Janet is now about to get behind the wheel of her pickup truck and tour the state and let Floridians get to talk to her and hear her and get to know her," said campaign manager Mo Elleithee.
Reno's 1999 red Ford Ranger has become the symbol of her campaign, part of an attempt to foster the image of a folksy, down-to-earth candidate willing to make tough decisions.
"What you see is what you get," Reno said during the opening of her campaign headquarters in Miami on Saturday. "I call it like I see it. I try to do what's right."
Before she can challenge Bush, however, Reno must win the Democratic nomination against a primary field that includes state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami, Florida House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Tampa lawyer Bill McBride.
The truck trip has drawn comparisons to the 91-day, 1,033-mile hike that launched Lawton Chiles' campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1970. "Walkin' Lawton" wore out four pairs of hiking boots en route to the first of three terms in the Senate. He then was twice elected governor, dying at the governor's mansion in December 1998, about a month short of completing his final term.
While Chiles began his trek in Century, a small sawmill town on the state line north of Pensacola, Reno was starting at the isolated welcome station west of Pensacola near the Perdido River, which separates the western end of the Florida Panhandle from Alabama.
Later Tuesday, Reno planned to visit Pensacola's A.A. Dixon Elementary School, which county officials have slated to close. The school is one of two in the state that has qualified for vouchers under education reform championed by Bush.
Reno opposes the Bush vouchers that lets students at failing public schools attend private schools at taxpayer expense.
Tuesday's agenda also included stops at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City, where Reno was to spend the night before heading for Tallahassee on Wednesday.