McBride morphing into formidable candidate

For a non-politician running for governor, Tampa’s Bill McBride is getting the hang of it.

He’s barnstorming, fund-raising and speaking out like the major, credible candidate he’s morphing into. He’s also taking the high road vis-a-vis his primary opponents, especially Janet Reno, the high-profile, front-running former U.S. attorney general, who happens to be a good friend. He saves his salvos for the governor. But he’s also careful to attack Jeb Bush, the ideologue, not the person.

The husky, well-connected, 56-year-old McBride is acting very much like the Democratic Party’s best chance in a general election against a powerful, incumbent governor whose brother is president of a United States at war. He will have to win, however, a primary with no run-off against seasoned politicians — most notably Reno.

Ideologically, the former managing partner for the mega-sized Holland & Knight law firm will not be outflanked on the left. He could balance — or maybe offset — a liberal agenda with serious business bona fides, a Bronze-Starred Vietnam Marine record and tons of civic service. Proximity to the critical I-4 corridor and potential appeal to a chunk of the military vote in North Florida underscore his geo-political possibilities.

This is the hybrid candidacy he brings. While his core beliefs in an activist government and inclusion — he’s a self-described “proud and unapologetic Democrat ” — certainly haven’t changed, the packaging has been refined.

As was evident recently at Tampa’s Tiger Bay Club luncheon, McBride seems more at ease in front of a political crowd. He’ll never be (state Senator) Daryl Jones, but he’s a better Bill McBride.

The light, sometimes self-deprecating, side was there. As was the down-home, Leesburg delivery that tells folks that Reno and her no-frills style won’t win the populist vote by default. Homage to his wife, ex-banker Alex Sink, wasn’t missed. A “9-11” reference took the patriotically pragmatic form of: “If they could find a uniform big enough, I’d go and get bin Laden myself. I’m trained for it.” Jesse Ventura could have uttered that one.

He set up his boilerplate special by citing recent studies by the St. Petersburg Times and one from the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation that showed Florida losing ground in education and income. He said Florida’s report card would warrant a “D or an F” and that Jeb Bush should be given “a voucher to go back to the private sector.” This is applause-line, mantra material that McBride is increasingly at ease with. It went over well.

Some other McBride offerings, a number of which will become campaign-trail staples:

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