Al Austin: “Hey, Bill, You’re a Liberal”

You don’t get much more Republican around here than Al Austin. Not county-yahoo-Svengali stuff, mind you, but seriously partisan establishment sort with a patrician touch. Austin’s a major party player and statewide go-to guy for GOP fund-raising. His Rolodex includes more than one generation of Bushes.

The “Pioneer Developer” of the Westshore Business District hasn’t missed a GOP convention since Richard Nixon was re-nominated in 1972. During that same time frame he has served in leadership roles in every presidential, gubernatorial and senate campaign in Florida. In 2000 he was a member of the Florida Electoral College. He’s currently finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, arguably the best run, most flush of all statewide GOP organizations.

He’s not, however, a campaign strategist. But if he were, you can bet he wouldn’t have signed off on the counterproductive ads that attacked Bill McBride during the primary.

When he sizes up the Jeb Bush-Bill McBride contest, Austin hearkens back to his experience chairing the successful senatorial campaigns of Connie Mack in 1988 and ’94. He expects an ’02 variation on the theme that was so successful against Buddy MacKay: “Hey, Buddy, you’re a liberal.”

Because of McBride’s war-hero record and role in running one of the biggest law firms in the country, he’s increasingly accorded centrist status. Last week’s BusinessWeek magazine, for example, noted that “the first-term governor (Bush) has good reason to worry: the MODERATE McBride has emerged in recent weeks as a serious threat

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