TALLAHASSEE — Lawton “Bud” Chiles III has been an independent candidate for governor for only a few weeks, but some longtime friends and associates already are trying to persuade him to drop out.
The subtle pressure comes mostly from Democrats who fear Chiles can’t win and will siphon votes away from likely Democratic nominee Alex Sink.
“His only role in this campaign, if he continues it, would be to spoil the chances of another candidate,” said Roy Miller, president of the Children’s Campaign, a non-partisan and charitable advocacy organization. “I don’t see any possible way that Bud Chiles is going to win this race.”
Some Florida Democrats compare Chiles to Ralph Nader, who in 2000 garnered 2.7 percent of the vote as a Green Party presidential candidate, effectively handing the election to George Bush over Democrat Al Gore.
Chiles dismisses the grumbling and said Democrats can’t force him to drop his campaign.
“I’ve seen some comments by people that are insiders,” Chiles said Tuesday, noting that most calls came before his June 3 campaign kick-off. “That’s inside party baseball. A lot of people are looking for an alternative to this existing order that we have set up.”
He added: “I’m trying to act on my convictions. If people can’t respect that, there’s much that I can do about it.”
Chiles’ father, former Gov. Lawton Chiles, served two terms as governor in the ’90s after three terms as a U.S. senator. The elder Chiles died in 1998, three weeks before his final term ended.
Child advocate Jack Levine noted that Chiles’ father also was a late entrant in the 1990 governor’s race but that was after 30 years of high-profile public service.
“What level of experience and expertise, other than your name, gives you the feeling that this is an office that you should aspire to?” Levine observed when asked about Bud Chiles. “If his name was Larry Charles instead of Lawton Chiles, we simply wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
The younger Chiles has built his campaign on the idea of cleaning up a corrupt political structure laden with special interest cash. In an irony lost on few political observers, Chiles might prove his point this election by raising little money and garnering only a few votes.
Public relations consultant Ron Sachs, a good friend of Bud Chiles, made that point last week in an opinion column published in the Tallahassee Democrat. Sachs, a former communications director for the late Gov. Chiles, said the campaign would be a “sad new chapter” in the Chiles legacy if it leads to a Republican victory in November.
“Bud Chiles is better positioned to become the Democratic Party’s pariah,” Sachs wrote.
Chiles has already qualified to be on the November ballot by submitting paperwork to the Division of Elections, along with a $5,200 check.
He has a few months, until early September, before his name appears on printed ballots. County election supervisors must begin sending absentee ballots to overseas military personnel by Sept. 18.
“If it looks like the only thing he’s going to do is cost the Democrats a chance at the governor’s seat, then there might be more contact around that time,” said Rep. Ron Saunders, a Key West Democrat and longtime friend who served in the Legislature when Chiles’ father was governor.
Staying in the race for the next few months, Saunders said, “gives him a chance to get out there and talk about things he wants to talk about.”
Asked to speculate about why Chiles is going through with his campaign, Tallahassee lobbyist Sam Bell had one word: Ego. A former Democratic lawmaker who is married to 2004 U.S. Senate candidate Betty Castor, Bell said Chiles’ father likely would disapprove of his son’s campaign.
“He would tell him to get out of the race, absolutely,” Bell said. “Lawton was a good Democrat.”