Republican Jeb Bush is using the mother of a murdered child to promote his challenge to Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles (D).
In a television spot that features snapshots of little Elisa Nelson taken before her brutal murder in 1980, her mother Wendy Nelson says: "Fourteen years ago, my daughter rode to school on her bicycle. She never came back. Her killer is still on Death Row and we're still waiting for justice. We won't get it from Lawton Chiles because he's too liberal on crime."
Nelson ends the ad with, "I know Jeb Bush. He'll make criminals serve their sentences and enforce the death penalty. Lawton Chiles won't."
Chiles called the ad "a repeat of Willie Horton," the famous ad made in support of George Bush's 1988 presidential bid against Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis. Horton was an inmate in a Massachusetts prison who was furloughed and attacked a couple in Maryland.
"Bush is using the pain and suffering of a mother's loss to smear and distort my record on the death penalty," Chiles said.
The governor responded with his own ads, charging the Bush campaign with sinking to new depths. "The fact is, her case is in the courts -- not on the governor's desk," the ad states.
Indeed, the girl's killer, Larry Eugene Mann, has been sentenced to death three times, and because of legal challenges and delays he remains locked up but alive. The appeals courts have stayed or reversed the death sentence on numerous occasions and Mann's lawyers have a post-conviction appeal pending in Pinellas Circuit Court. Chiles couldn't execute Mann any faster.
"Jeb Bush has no understanding of the legal system," Chiles said. "A death warrant should be signed only after post-conviction appeals have been denied."
Bush acknowledged to the Miami Herald that Chiles "has not been presented the opportunity to accelerate" Mann's execution, but his campaign defended the ad, saying it is aimed at criticizing Chiles's overall record on crime and signing death warrants.
Two independent polls yesterday show the race in a virtual dead heat with about 10 percent of voters undecided.