TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Lawton "Bud" Chiles III, the son of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, made a late entry into the governor's race as an independent candidate on Thursday, saying both major parties have been influenced too much by money.
Chiles has just five months to mount a campaign against presumed Democratic nominee Alex Sink and the Republican nominee. Attorney General Bill McCollum is the GOP front-runner, but businessman Rick Scott has cut into his lead by spending millions on television ads.
"Political parties are not the solution. They're caught up in this high stakes game that pits big money against big money and leaves ordinary Floridians on the sideline. I refuse to play that game," said Chiles, a lifelong Democrat who is changing his registration to no party affiliation. "I won't take the political party's money, nor will I carry their water because that's against the interest of ordinary Floridians."
His entry into the race will most likely affect Sink, the state's chief financial officer who has been running a campaign for a year. Chiles' father was a popular Democratic politician and Bud Chiles was briefly a candidate for governor in 2006 before dropping out because of a residency requirement.
Chiles said he met with Sink and she tried to convince him not to run.
"She indicated that she would be raising $30 million, and my comment to her was 'Call me naive or old fashioned, that's why, really, I'm getting in this race.' I don't choose to play that game, I don't believe that's in the people's interest," Chiles said.
Sink saw the conversation differently.
"I absolutely did not try to talk him out of running. I told Bud Chiles how my campaign was organized, what I was doing, what my message is so that he would be aware of the strength of my campaign."
She said he will not hurt her campaign
It will be a challenge for Chiles. Florida is a massive state - an 855-mile drive from Perdido Key near Pensacola to Key West - with expensive media markets. A week of television ads in all Florida markets can cost more than $1 million.
And Chiles doesn't plan to take special interest money. Instead, he said he will appeal to working Floridians for contributions, and limit them to $250, or half the state limit.
Big corporations buying so much political influence is what's led to problems like the ongoing BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Chiles said.
"This disaster didn't start in the Gulf of Mexico, it started right over here in the halls of government, where big money contributions bought lax regulation and lax oversight," he said.
Chiles' father won a U.S. Senate seat in 1970 after walking 1,003 miles from the western Panhandle to the Florida Keys. He later was elected governor for two terms and died in 1998, the month before he would have left office. Bud Chiles has similarly been walking around the state to raise awareness about education and how communities are trying to improve social services.
"I want working Floridians at the center of my campaign. I don't need a big check - 20 bucks will be fine. Instead, what I'm asking people for is their involvement, their ideas, their energy and their desire to strengthen Florida's communities," Chiles said. "For several months and hundreds of miles I've walked alone and now I'm asking the people of Florida to walk with me."
The Republican Party of Florida immediately said that Chiles' entry into the race is a sign that Democrats aren't happy with Sink.
"Alex Sink has lagged in the polls, faced repeated turnover within the ranks of her senior staff and ducked from the press when confronted with questions on serious issues facing our state. The fact that Alex Sink has been a disappointment to the Democrat establishment throughout the course of this campaign is even clearer now that she's drawn general election opposition from one of her own," said state GOP executive director Ronnie Whitaker.
Chiles entered the Democratic primary for governor in 2006 before dropping out when he realized that the state constitution has a provision dating back to the 19th century that says a governor must have been a resident for the previous seven years before taking office.
Chiles was born and raised in Florida, but lived in New York and New Jersey before returning to the state in 2003.