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Ex-ambassador hints he'll make run for governor

Douglas "Pete" Peterson came home Wednesday, shaking off the stiffness of a 12,500-mile journey that began in Vietnam and ended at the Tallahassee Regional Airport.

The former Florida congressman and ambassador to Vietnam hinted that his next stop may be 700 N Adams St. _ the Governor's Mansion.

Although he has not yet formally declared his candidacy for governor, the Democrat told supporters gathered at the airport to hold on to banners urging him to run.

"I recommend that you do not throw those signs away," Peterson told the crowd, which included Attorney General Bob Butterworth.

Butterworth, who has sworn off his own run for governor, said he was there to "welcome an American hero back to his home state."

"The man has the whole package," Butterworth said.

"He personifies public service."

Peterson, 66, is one of about a half-dozen Democrats who have signaled an interest in challenging Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

And he is considered by some prominent elected Democrats and fundraisers to be the most viable challenger, though he doesn't have the name recognition of former Attorney General Janet Reno, who also is considering a run.

That meant little to the small crowd who gathered at the airport Wednesday to chant "Run, Pete, run."

Peterson said after he and his wife, Vietnam native Vi Le, get settled in Tallahassee, they plan to tour the state to get reacquainted with friends as he contemplates his run for governor. Peterson declined to give a timetable for his decision, but said he would be prepared to answer political questions "in a few weeks."

"It's better to wait and make the right decision than hurry up and make the wrong one," Peterson said.

Nominated by President Clinton, Peterson in 1997 became the first ambassador to the unified Vietnam. He had originally agreed to stay on the job for President Bush to see an important trade agreement through Congress.

Instead, he decided to come back to Florida to explore a run for governor. After layovers in Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta, Peterson arrived Wednesday, a day after he was originally scheduled, as a small crowd of supporters cheered his name.

Peterson flew 66 bombing missions over Vietnam before being shot down and spending more than six years as a prisoner of war. After returning home, he received a bachelor's degree from the University of Tampa in 1976, co-owned a computer store and settled in Marianna.

In 1990, former Florida Democratic Chairman Charles Whitehead helped recruit Peterson to run for Congress against incumbent Bill Grant, a former Democrat who had switched his party registration to Republican. Peterson won and served six years in Congress, compiling a voting record that was middle-of-the-road.

In 1995, Peterson's wife, Carlotta, died of breast cancer. Peterson became ambassador to Vietnam two years later, and in 1998 he married Vi Le, who was an Australian-Vietnamese trade official.

If he runs, he'll join the ranks of state House Minority Leader Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, state Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami and Tampa lawyer Bill McBride, fellow Democrats who have opened campaign accounts for governor. Three other Democrats, U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa, Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox and Reno, are exploring the possibility of running for governor but have not opened campaign accounts.