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In the Crossfire

Will the Sunshine State ever master the voting process?

(CNN) -- Tuesday was Election Day -- but in Florida, the headaches continued over counting ballots to determine the Democratic challenger for Gov. Jeb Bush. Political newcomer Bill McBride, a Tampa attorney, defeated his chief rival, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, for the Democratic nomination in the race for governor, but his victory did not come smoothly at the ballot box.

Tuesday's election was again plagued by delayed poll openings and technical glitches, particularly in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, two years after the balloting fiasco in Florida that left the outcome of the presidential election hanging for weeks. Voting was extended for two hours statewide this week because of the problems.

Reno's campaign Thursday asked elections officials in Miami-Dade County, a Reno stronghold, to review the accuracy of vote totals reported in 81 precincts -- including an examination of new touch-screen electronic voting equipment.

Why does the Sunshine State continue to have election migraines? Republican strategist Alex Castellanos and Doug Hattaway, a former Gore spokesman, step into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

BEGALA: Doug, you were Al Gore's point man in the Florida recount, as all of us remember.

And Alex, I guess it's proof they always return to the scene of the crime.

The governor of Florida, at the time that they stole the election from Al Gore, was a guy named Jeb Bush. He's been in all the papers. Here's what he said at the time because of the massive voting irregularities that occurred on his watch, at the time in 2000 he made the following pledge.

He said: "Clearly" -- clearly -- "there will be a lesson from this election experience that we'll act on."

Yes, the lesson was: Screw the Democrats every time you can. Isn't that his...

CASTELLANOS: Well Paul, now we know exactly what the problem is: You Democrats don't know how to vote. You couldn't figure out how to vote for president, now you can't vote for governor.

BEGALA: It's his state. He's running the state.

CASTELLANOS: Sixty-two out of 65 counties got it right, but two counties where there are Democrat election supervisors, they couldn't even figure out how to get someone to the polls at 7 a.m. to open them up.

This is a people problem, not a machine problem.

HATTAWAY: The most pathetic sight of this whole situation was the governor of the state trying to pass the buck.

BEGALA: Right.

HATTAWAY: I think that was the biggest problem.

With all the scrutiny of this state in 2000, it was a global laughingstock, and the governor should have been on this like a laser beam for two years. He was absent for two years.

CASTELLANOS: What you should do is tell about the Democrats' dirty little secret in Florida. And that's that the Democratic power brokers in Florida were warned that these two counties weren't getting ready months ago. And you know what? They did nothing. And you know why? Because this is Janet Reno's base, and they didn't want Janet Reno on the ballot, they wanted the big-spending liberal.

BEGALA: Who's the governor?

CASTELLANOS: They turned down offers of help in that county. Those people should be investigated and prosecuted.

NOVAK: You and Paul are joined at the hip.

By the way, I have -- every time you say that he stole that election, I will say he didn't. And it's an insult to the American system every time you say that, Paul.

But to go on, you've got -- you're joined at the hip with the spin that this was Jeb Bush's fault. These are two counties that are heavily Democratic.

And let's listen to what Governor Bush said today.

(Videotape begins)

Florida Gov. JEB BUSH: It should be an embarrassment to the people that run elections in Miami and in Broward County. They should be embarrassed, and they better fix it.

(Videotape ends)

NOVAK: Isn't it true, Mr. Hattaway, that those are Democrats that run that show?

HATTAWAY: Nothing that happens in Florida is Jeb Bush's fault. They're facing a fiscal mess. The Child Protection Agency is a disaster. None of it is the governor's fault.

CASTELLANOS: The crime rate is down the lowest it's been in 20 years. Three times the number of good schools they had.

HATTAWAY: Now that's not his fault.

BEGALA: They lose children under Jeb Bush. Are you going to blame the Democrats that they lose children, God help us, in the foster care system.

Now they can't run an election, they can't run a foster care system. They can't run a budget.

He can't run nothing bigger than his mouth, can he?

CASTELLANOS: How come everybody else can run it except these people who were warned a couple of months ago and did nothing about it?

We know you Democrats think that the voting booth is a big ATM where you just get taxpayers' money to spend. Maybe your Democrats tried to make a withdrawal.

NOVAK: I think that Alex said something that's really interesting. I'd like to respond to it. It was very interesting, because we have a situation where Janet Reno, who is one of -- probably the worst attorney general in the history of the United States. And she was -- she's a desperately -- she was a desperately bad candidate, and the power-brokers got this rich Palm Beach lawyer who had laid off his whole staff because his firm was going under, and they had to undermine her vote in those two counties.

Isn't that true?

HATTAWAY: And the Republicans helped out Bill McBride more than anybody by running ads attacking. The Republicans are afraid of Bill McBride.

CASTELLANOS: Listen, if he's going to run -- so far this guy has already promised $1 billion in taxes and spending around there. He's part of the Democratic tax ticket down there. He's in huge trouble. Such a weak candidate, they had to prop him up.




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