Can voters rally around Janet Reno?

Janet Reno, as we’ve come to know, is a one-of-kind, buck-stops-here, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, I-gotta-be-me Democratic candidate for governor. That, of course, is not without appeal. As is the return of the native daughter who made it big inside the Beltway.

The 63-year-old former U.S. attorney general drives a pick-up truck, lives in her mom’s old Miami house and keeps her home telephone number listed — populist touches all.She doesn’t back off the baggage she ostensibly totes around: Waco, Elian, the Clinton years or an obvious Parkinson’s condition. She deals with all this political Samsonite directly, bluntly and, at times, humorously. Preceding her everywhere is the sort of name recognition that most political candidates can only fantasize about. Conventional wisdom still says she trumps the field in a primary sans run-off.

And yet.

For all the grit it’s taken to forge on with Parkinson’s; for all the fortitude needed to avoid defeat by notorious lose-lose scenarios; and for all the ad hominem cheap shots she’s had to endure; in person, she’s somehow less than the sum of those resolute, even defiant, parts.

At the podium, in front of political junkies and partisans, she is no longer a larger-than-life icon of the left. Just tall. And, well, short on passion.

And passion is hardly unimportant when it comes to being a catalytic candidate for change. It’s even more critical for energizing an electorate, especially traditional Democratic constituencies that must turn out in record numbers for Democrats to have a chance of unseating a powerful incumbent. Ultimately, voters are more likely to rally around a person than a name.

If what you see is what you get, then most folks at the recent Tiger Bay Club of Tampa gathering couldn’t have seen enough to get giddy over the prospect of a Jeb Bush-Janet Reno showdown. Reno, however, vowed to beat Jeb Bush “by getting out traditional Democratic voters.”

We’ll see.

Would that she hadn’t uttered, however, the mantra of all who already wax nostalgic for a polarizing return to the politics of “disenfranchisement.”

“If the votes had been counted the way the people who voted intended that they be counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States today, and Florida would have been won by the Democrats,” noted Reno.

So much for a one-of-kind candidacy when pandering is a stump-speech staple.

Reno delivered that stump spiel as if she were addressing a seminar. All she needed was an overhead projector. She would, she intoned, make the case to voters that they should support tax hikes to meet priority needs such as education, preventive health care and Everglades restoration. She would focus heavily on domestic violence prevention and information-technology funding.

None of these, of course, are wayward priorities. Despite his ideological tethers, Gov. Bush could probably agree. The devil, of course, is in the details.

As for what taxes or whose exemptions, well, that’s what long campaigns are for. At the end of which, “I gotta-be-me” candidates will have morphed into “I gotta-be-elected” politicians.

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