MIAMI -- Political newcomer Bill McBride claimed victory in the Democratic race for governor Thursday after unofficial returns showed him finishing 8,196 votes ahead of Janet Reno in Florida's bungled primary. Reno refused to concede and would not rule out a court challenge to determine who will take on Republican Gov. Jeb Bush this fall.
The state canvassing board said McBride's margin of victory exceeded half of a percentage point, the trigger for an automatic machine recount. More than 1.3 million votes were cast.
According to the state, the Tampa lawyer had 601,008 votes, or 44.5 percent, to Reno's 592,812 votes, or 43.9 percent.
State Sen. Daryl Jones of Miami had 156,358 votes, or 11.6 percent.
The results will be officially certified next week.
"I just want to thank the 600,000 people who supported my candidacy," McBride told supporters late Thursday at a Tampa hotel.
Reno campaign attorney Alan Greer said the former attorney general has not decided whether she will seek a recount or go to court to overturn the result, but was keeping her options open.
The campaign fell 1,445 votes short of triggering a recount.
Greer and Reno campaign manager Mo Elleithee specifically questioned Miami-Dade County's ballot count in 81 precincts, saying thousands of votes could be affected on Reno's home turf.
The campaign said there could be similar problems in Broward County.
Voting problems alleged
Elleithee said the campaign has received hundreds of affidavits from voters alleging problems, and has e-mailed supporters statewide asking for more examples.
Still, Greer said the campaign is trying to avoid doing anything that would cause hurt the Democratic effort to oust Bush this fall. "We are not here to start World War III in the legal sense," Greer said.
"He is ready to assume the mantle," McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher said. "As far as we're concerned, we're planning a general election campaign."
Robin Rorapaugh, McBride's campaign manager, said a court challenge by Reno could cost Democrats and be "horribly divisive" in the campaign against Bush.