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The capital crawls with candidates, possibilities

Life just gets more and more interesting around the state Capitol.

Democrats are coming out of the woodwork to run against Gov. Jeb Bush, more than a year ahead of the 2002 race for governor.

It's hard to remember a time when so many were this interested, especially since Republicans began taking over the Legislature in 1990.

No one is sure where this will all end, but big names like former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Pete Peterson guarantee an interesting season.

Can the Democrats repeat the success of Lawton Chiles and Buddy MacKay and come up with a dream ticket that will take out a Republican governor after one term?

Hard to say.

In the spring of 1990 when it appeared that then-Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican, was about to clean the clock of a fellow named Bill Nelson, Chiles and MacKay came out of retirement to reclaim the mansion for Democrats.

But Bush is better organized, better financed and remains more popular than Martinez.

When Attorney General Bob Butterworth showed up to welcome Peterson home from Vietnam this week, tongues started to wag. Would Butterworth team up with Peterson for a run?

Or could we perhaps see a Reno-Peterson or Reno-Butterworth ticket?

Butterworth, the best-known Democrat still holding state office, has indicated he will not run for governor, but he has never ruled out the No. 2 spot. It might be much more to the liking of a guy who likes staying out of the direct glare of the spotlight.

Butterworth's presence on any ticket would certainly enhance the party's chance of winning.

The other candidates for governor: Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami, Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Bill McBride, the former managing partner at Holland & Knight, the state's biggest law firm, have all opened campaign accounts, clearly complying with the law.

Reno, Peterson and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, D-Tampa, are just sort of out there traveling around the state talking about running for governor. Some believe they are in violation of campaign finance laws, which require anyone spending money on a campaign to open accounts and report expenditures and contributions.

The law is fuzzy enough to leave doubt.

So far Democrats are getting more help from our Republican governor than anyone. In the space of a year he has destroyed his relations with the state's black voters and made state employees as mad as a bunch of wet hens.

It's hard to say how this resonates outside of Tallahassee, where anger is hottest.

But Bush needs to do something to defuse the animosity of black voters who see his "One Florida" plan as a plot to reduce minority access to state contracts and universities.

When Bush launched One Florida almost two years ago he thought he would be seen as a hero for saving access for minorities who risked losing affirmative action.

Californian Ward Connerly was trying to get a constitutional amendment abolishing affirmative action on the Florida ballot.

No doubt Bush's plan helped kill Connerly's plan, but it also left the governor out on a limb that Democrats have been sawing away at ever since.

Bush may regain minority support if he can prove his plan is actually working.

So far it is a war of numbers and words so deeply entwined in partisan politics it is hard to tell.

Democrats hope to keep black voters and Gore supporters filled with anger until 2002. They are helped by the still raw feelings left over from last year's presidential election.

Whatever happens, it's going to be a long year.