Bill McBride was the Democratic Party
nominee for governor
, having defeated former Attorney General Janet Reno
in the primary election
. A native of Leesburg, FL
, he (McBride, not Reno) got into the University of Florida
on a football scholarship
, and was injured shortly thereafter, ending his potential football career. In 1968, he left law school
at UF to join the United States Marine Corps
, and was shipped off to the Vietnam War
, where he earned a Bronze Star
. After the war, he finished law school and opened practice in Tampa, FL
In the 2002 election, McBride was cast as an underdog against Reno, who had a clear advantage in the notoriety department, and by most accounts was much stronger in the debates than McBride. On September 10, 2002, the date of the primary, McBride was still showing up slightly behind in opinion polling. By the end of the day, however, McBride and Reno were neck and neck, with McBride holding a slight advantage and several precincts in South Florida not yet reporting. Reno refused to concede right away, believing that the missing votes from Miami-Dade County and Broward County would push her ahead of McBride.
On September 18, 2002, Reno finally conceded, and McBride was slated by the Democrats to face down Jeb Bush (the current governor, George W. Bush's brother). Polls over the fall campaign season predicted that Jeb would trash Bill in the November general election: while Bill had the support of the AFL-CIO and Florida Education Association, Jeb had the support of several police unions as well as his brother at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Some believed, though, that McBride's military experience could win over moderate conservatives, and Bush knew from the get-go that McBride would be a tougher opponent than Reno: even before the primary results were announced, the Bush campaign funneled millions into a smear campaign against McBride. The Rilya Wilson scandal, as well as growing opposition to the War on Terror, was expected to hurt Bush's prospects for reelection: however, Jeb beat Bill on November 6, 2002.