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Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2001 / 22 Elul, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Janet vs. Jeb: Rivals beyond 'deliverance'


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IT'S a game that draws the biggest crowd at the carnival. Your ball hits the target. The big shot falls into the water.

Next November, the most enticing target in the United States will be Jeb Bush, governor of Florida. Nail him hard next November, and his littler, older brother -- that's the president! -- will be left splashing in the icy tub.

This week, Janet Reno took a prominent place in the "Throw At Jeb!" line.

But, by the very act of declaring her candidacy, the former attorney general erected a new attraction on the American midway: "Throw at Janet." Beat her, and you will have struck a blow against the FBI, the BATF, the federal government, the Clinton cotillion, the gun control crowd, and Fidel Castro to boot.

Is this opportunity good for the Democrats?

Before Janet, it was a simple matter of rounding up all Floridians with a beef and herding them to the polls. Before Janet, the campaign had a simple theme: deliverance. Knock off Jeb, and every newspaper from here to Jakarta would sound the death knell for the Bush dynasty.

Bounce Bush, and the 2002 vote becomes a final verdict on 2000: Those Bush boys stole the election. Somebody had to pay. This time it was Jeb. Next time, it will be George W.

But with Reno in the race, those seeking revenge on the Bushes will have to compete with those seeking revenge on her.

Men first. They hate her. A Mason-Dixon poll has the match-up this way:

ALL VOTERS: Bush is favored by 54 percent, and Reno by 39 percent.

MEN: Bush is preferred by 59 percent over Reno's 35 percent.

WOMEN: Bush leads 49 percent to Reno's 43 percent.

That 6-point lead among women is hardly noteworthy. The 24-point edge with male voters stands as the giant detail.

Blame it on guns or male insecurity; wallow in psychobabble. The extraordinary fact is that the only way for Reno to reach the governor's office is by changing male hearts. As long as they loathe her in such numbers, she won't have enough female strength to overcome them.

Fortunately for Reno, gender and guns are not the only factors in this race. Throw in geography.

Florida.

It's not just the name of a state anymore. It's a fighting word, especially among what Democratic professionals call "the base" -- African-Americans.

Roadblocks, wrong names on lists of felons, faulty voting machines, you name it. It's a matter of near-religious belief that blacks were the target of a "vote suppression" scheme last November and that it was run out of Tallahassee.

This conviction explains why 84 percent of African-Americans say they will vote for Janet Reno against Jeb Bush.

If you like passion in your politics, this campaign in Florida is the one for you. Reno says it's going to be "no holds barred," and no one is debating the point.

Kids will stream to Florida from across the country for this one. Al Sharpton will come, and so will Jesse Jackson. Democratic activists will arrive by the busload. There'll be Texas money for Jeb and plenty of New York loot for Janet.

The NRA will be out in force. So will NOW. So will everybody.

For those who hated last year's Pillsbury bake-off between a cowboy trying to act compassionate and a nerd trying to act cool, this is a political circus you're going to love.

Remember how Newsweek morphed the pictures of Gore and Bush to show how similar they were? Nobody's going to do that Janet Reno and Jeb Bush.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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