The Florida Republican Party will air the first negative ad of the governor's race today, bashing Democratic candidates Bill McBride and Janet Reno for evasiveness and vague platforms.
But the ad states that no one knows where either candidate stands on the death penalty. In fact, that is one of the relatively few issues on which Reno and McBride have taken clear positions.
McBride supports capital punishment but as governor would impose a moratorium to improve the system in hopes of better avoiding wrongful convictions.
Reno personally opposes the death penalty but would sign death warrants and has a long record as attorney general and state prosecutor of having sought the death penalty. She says she is unsure whether Florida's capital punishment system, which has produced more wrongful convictions than any other state's, needs reforms.
Todd Harris, spokesman for the Bush campaign, defended the party ad's claim, saying Reno and McBride are taking "slippery positions" on capital punishment.
The 30-second ad is aimed at tarnishing the candidates before they have had a chance to widely introduce themselves and their platforms on TV. Reno has not run any ads, and the largely unknown McBride has had only one television ad that has not been widely aired.
The Democrats have been trashing Gov. Jeb Bush's record for months. Republicans said it was time to fire back, even though polls show Bush leading all Democratic challengers.
"Reno and McBride. Nothing but a song and dance," the ad states. "Jeb Bush. Leadership."
The McBride and Reno camps attacked the ad as loaded with distortions or falsehoods.
"The Republican Party and the Bushes have shown they will spend whatever it takes to hold onto this office," Reno spokeswoman Nicole Harburger said. "They will say anything on TV."
The ad also states that neither Reno nor McBride will take a stand on the Bush administration's policy of grading schools based on standardized tests.
In fact, both candidates are strong critics of Bush's emphasis on the FCAT standardized tests. Reno has said she supports using tests to measure schools' performance but complains that the testing standards have changed so much that their conclusions are dubious.
McBride supports using standardized tests "as a diagnostic tool," but he is strongly critical of Bush's policies, which he says use the tests to punish schools that need help.
Campaign spokesman Alan Stonecipher said McBride will debate Bush "any time, any place," about the direction of schools in Florida. Polls show McBride nearly 30 points behind Reno for the Democratic nomination, but Stonecipher said the ad suggests Republicans are clearly worried about him.
Towson Fraser, spokesman for the state GOP, dismissed the complaints.
"Jeb Bush has said all along that he's going to defend himself when attacked," Fraser said.