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Bud Chiles Prepares to Launch Gubernatorial Campaign

Bud Chiles is expected to announce his entrance into the governor's race Thursday possibly becoming a spoiler candidate in the increasingly crowded race to succeed Gov. Charlie Crist.

But whether Chiles, the son of late Democratic governor Lawton Chiles, will run as a Democrat or as an independent candidate remains in question. His late entrance into the race has fueled speculation that he may run without a party affiliation, giving him until November to build the name recognition and financial backing to upset established candidates Alex Sink on the Democratic side and Bill McCollum on the Republican side. McCollum also has a serious primary challenge from businessman Rick Scott.

People close to Chiles would not comment Wednesday on Chiles’ intentions in terms of party affiliation and many long time associates said that he had not confided in them.

Ron Sachs, who served as a spokesman for the late governor and owner of a prominent Tallahassee public relations firm, said he did expect Bud Chiles to jump in the race, but that his firm would not be involved in any sort of campaign for Chiles or any other candidate. Sachs has donated to Sink in the past.

“But he is a very dear friend of many years and I fully expect that tomorrow he will follow through on closing the loop on this circle he has walked in touching base with family and friends and announce his candidacy for governor,” Sachs said.

Sachs had not spoken to Chiles in recent days and said he didn't know whether he would run as a Democrat or independent. Chiles has scheduled a press conference for Thursday in Tallahassee to discuss his election year plans but did not elaborate in a release about the announcement.

Party officials were also quiet Wednesday waiting to see whether Chiles would jump in as a Democrat or as an independent. Florida Democratic Party officials declined to comment until after the announcement and a request for comment from the Sink campaign went unanswered. Sink said last week she wanted to meet with Chiles about his intentions, but it wasn’t clear Wednesday with neither of them answering questions whether the meeting took place.

Mitch Ceasar, the Broward County Democratic chair and a longtime Democratic operative, said given that the primary is in August, he would be surprised if Chiles would try to challenge Sink for the Democratic nomination. The compressed time frame gives Chiles limited opportunity to drum up support and raise enough money to mount a serious challenge to Sink. And with Gov. Charlie Crist's bid for the U.S. Senate as a no party affiliation candidate, an independent candidacy for other politicians is not out of the realm of possibility.

“Florida's become a petri dish politically, a petri dish nationally for independent candidacies this year,” Ceasar said.
Chiles has hinted at a statewide run for almost a year, first as a CFO candidate and then as governor. He briefly ran for governor in 2006 but withdrew because he did not meet the state's residency requirements to qualify for office.
Until recently, he served as president of the Lawton Chiles Foundation, a children's advocacy group, and has been involved in a number of business deals throughout the state, including the renovation of the Governor's Inn, a Tallahassee hotel.

A run as an independent could spell the most trouble for Sink because they would likely be competing for many of the same votes in a general election contest. A divided Democratic electorate could clear the way for a Republican nominee to seize the state's top elected office.

McCollum and Scott are slugging it out for the Republican nomination. Scott also made a relatively late entrance into the governor's race, but has relied on personal wealth to fund his campaign thus far, launching a slew of TV ads attacking McCollum. McCollum, like Sink, started out as the party favorite, winning endorsements from GOP stalwarts such as former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Democratic officials largely viewed Sink as a heavyweight candidate when she announced her intent to run for governor because of her business background, hoping she could siphon off votes from the typically Republican business community.

“I would say one thing Bud has to be cautious about is if he does run for governor is being the spoiler of 2010 since Alex Sink is position to be the Democratic nominee clearly,” Sachs said. “And you just don't want the reputation as a spoiler.”

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