TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- After a summer of campaigning against his Democratic opponents by pretending they don't exist, Gov. Jeb Bush is suddenly on the offensive.
But the target isn't Janet Reno -- it's the underdog.
While continuing to maintain a haughty distance with the former attorney general, Bush has launched virulent attacks against her lesser known rival for the Democratic nomination, Tampa lawyer Bill McBride.
In the past week, the governor has criticized McBride's record as head of Florida's biggest law firm, mocked his proposals on education -- and even dispatched an aide dressed as a duck to a McBride press conference.
Bush strategists say the governor is simply taking out a little insurance in case McBride becomes a bigger threat in weeks to come.
They also point out that Reno is too well-known a figure to redefine by spin as they feel they can do with McBride.
"In politics, you never get a second chance to make a first impression," said Todd Harris, Bush's campaign spokesman. "As a precautionary measure we're stepping in."
McBride, for his part, has built his campaign attacking Bush's leadership, rather than criticizing other Democrats.
Until recently, Bush refused to retaliate -- a few weeks ago he said he wouldn't talk about McBride until after the Sept. 10 primary.
Analysts say the switch in tactics is risky. By attacking McBride, they say, Republicans are giving him exposure and name recognition.
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