Bill McBride officially joined the Democratic race for governor Wednesday and then jumped on a plane hoping to start rising out of Janet Reno's shadow.
Flying around the state, the Tampa lawyer sounded like both a tough former Marine and a dreamer. McBride said incumbent Republican Gov. Jeb Bush should "be a man" and debate him about the state of Florida's schools. But he ignored political reality _ McBride would have to upset favorite Janet Reno in the Democratic primary before facing off with Bush.
At campaign stops in Daytona Beach, West Palm Beach and Clearwater, McBride talked as though Bush were his only opponent. But polls show him trailing Reno by nearly 30 points for the Democratic nomination.
"This campaign is about telling the truth and holding the governor accountable for the failure of our public schools," McBride said at a Tallahassee news conference, after turning in paperwork to qualify for the primary.
"This governor has not made the case to be rehired, and I'm going to make a strong case to be hired."
McBride criticized the governor's education efforts, which assign grades to schools based on standardized test results. He said he would spend more money on public education than Bush.
In Tallahassee, McBride submitted required financial disclosure forms, showing his net worth to be $1.9-million. Reno reports her net worth at $2.4-million; Bush reports his as $1.5-million.
McBride resigned as managing partner of Holland & Knight, the state's largest law firm, to run for governor. His 2001 tax returns, also released Tuesday, show he earned $448,275 from the law firm. The records do not include income or separately owned assets for his wife, Alex Sink, who formerly headed Florida operations for NationsBank.
Bush plans to release 10 years of tax returns. McBride said he would release at least five years of returns soon.
Criss-crossing the state in a leased eight-passenger plane, McBride was greeted by crowds of more than 100 supporters in Daytona Beach and at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. About two dozen supporters met him in West Palm Beach. He vowed to invest more money in schools and bring higher-wage jobs to Florida.
"I know in my heart we're going to win this thing," he said. "My job is to let everybody know who I am and who I care about."
New Republican TV ads targeting both him and Reno, he said, show his campaign is gaining steam. And he said Reno's refusal to participate in more than one televised debate robs Democrats of opportunities to spread their message.
But McBride focused on Bush and called for the governor to debate him.
"I'll go wherever he wants. Man to man, we'll talk about the issues of Florida. He won't do that because he can't stand the heat," McBride said. "He has a record he can't defend."
A Bush campaign spokesman said Bush will debate the winner of the Democratic primary.