Chiles' Run for Governor Could Cost His Father's Party

Tallahassee, FL – Lawton "Bud" Chiles III -- son of the late Democratic icon -- says he jumped into the governor's race because none of the other candidates was saying what he wanted to hear. But as Margie Menzel reports, his run may be a gift to state Republicans grappling with their party's ongoing financial scandal.

"We're going to have a $100 million food fight in Tallahassee in the governor's race, and probably the same over on the Senate side," said Bud Chiles, son of former governor and senator Lawton Chiles, at his new campaign office in Tallahassee. "And it's sad."

Chiles has pledged not to take campaign contributions over $250.

"[Money] keeps average Floridians on the side line," he said. "People are frustrated, they're mad, they're angry. They're not seeing their critical needs get met."

Chiles talks like a populist and campaigns by walking from community to community, as his father did. Although he's a lifelong Democrat, he says he found the platform of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee, lacking. Sink met with Chiles before he decided to file.

"I just wanted to share with him my plans and my ideas about the future of Florida and what my campaign is all about," Sink said. "And I wanted him to have the benefit of hearing what my platform is."

Loyal Democrats view Chiles' independent run with alarm. Statewide media consultant Ron Sachs, who served as Gov. Chiles' communications director:

"His candidacy only hurts one side, and that's the Democrats. And the terrible irony is that his family has a proud tradition of being victors in the Democratic Party. He clearly won't be that, but he could be the spoiler for Democrats in a way that makes bad history."

Sachs says that while he remains deeply loyal to the family...

"...I am very hopeful that Bud Chiles will be out on the trail, get his message out and then wake up to a new reality that the best thing he can do is talk with Alex Sink, influence her agenda, and stand down from his own candidacy and support hers."

And veteran Democratic lawmaker and lobbyist Sam Bell says he's tried everything he can think of to get Chiles to drop out.

"I've been unable to find anyone who's supporting him, other than two or three of his family members," said Bell. "I did leave a message on his answering machine, telling him how disappointed I was. I've talked to any number of people who might be viewed as being close to him, and they all share my feeling that he ought not to be running."

Republican communications consultant Erin VanSickle, who supports Attorney General Bill McCollum for governor, agrees that Chiles' candidacy is bad news for Sink.

"Whether or not Bud Chiles will stick it out, and the impact his candidacy will have on Alex Sink's campaign is anyone's guess," VanSickle said. "But I think it's clear that his candidacy is an illustration of Democrats' frustrations across Florida."

Chiles faces millions of dollars in claims against his construction company. And he acknowledges that the next governor faces a $5-6 billion deficit - before the oil spill - and the first budget without federal stimulus money to fill the gaps. But he said his lack of experience as an elected official is not an obstacle.

"If you look at the last ten years, there's people with plenty of experience that have been in the Governor's Office and the leadership of the House and the Senate - and we have gone backwards, seriously backwards," Chiles said, "from the days when my father was governor and Bob Graham before him, on every area. Certainly on education, on health care, on children's issues..."

Orlando-based conservative activist Doug Gueztloe agrees. He said Gov. Chiles was a centrist and thus appeals to voters who want alternatives to the two-party system.

"If Bud has any of the same positions, generally, on some of the major issues as his dad had, I think you're going to see a lot of people gravitate to him, also because he's not part of the current two-party system," Gueztloe said. "He's not an incumbent. And there are a lot of people also - there's a certain nostalgia for returning to politics that are a little more stable, a little more honest, a little less sleazy."

Chiles filed on June 3 and did well in a June 9 Quinnipiac University poll, which showed that if the other candidates for governor were Sink and Republican Rick Scott, Chiles would get 13 percent of the vote, Scott would get 35 percent and Sink 26 percent, with 26 who didn't know or gave no answer. If the candidates were Sink, Chiles and McCollum as the Republican, Chiles would get 19 percent, McCollum would get 33 percent and Sink would get 25 percent with 23 percent who didn't know or gave no answer.