Worried about Gov. Jeb Bush's reelection prospects next year, the Republican National Committee has hired veteran political consultant Randy Enwright to keep an eye on the state.
"It's the first time one state has been given their own political person," RNC spokeswoman Jennifer Coxe said Thursday. "He has an intimate knowledge of the Florida political scene."
Publicly, the governor welcomed the unprecedented move.
"We'll take all the help we can get," said Bush, who announced last week that he would seek a second term.
Strategists fear that even a close governor's race in Florida in 2002 might hamper President Bush's chances in the state two years later. The hotly contested Florida presidential balloting last year put George W. Bush in the White House by a hair's breadth.
"I feel very confident Gov. Bush is going to be reelected on his record," Enwright said Thursday, adding it could be a nasty contest as Democrats are anxious to unseat President Bush's younger brother.
"Absolutely it's going to be tough," he said. "They're gunning for him already and spending a lot of money."
Gov. Bush won easily in 1998 over Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, but the bitterness resulting from last year's presidential recount and strong political opposition to many of the governor's initiatives make Democrats increasingly hopeful of defeating him in the next vote.
"They're sounding their alarm early," state Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch said Thursday. "Democrats are lining up to take him on because they know Jeb Bush is vulnerable."
Enwright, 48, was hired April 1 as the RNC's field representative in Florida, where he's worked since 1995.
"Obviously Florida is a very important state because of its size, its electoral vote and its popular vote," Enwright said. "Because of its population and demographics changes, you can never take it for granted."
Enwright, who spent three years as the state party's executive director, also had Florida in his territory for the committee several years ago. He quit working for the state party after the 1998 election cycle to enter the private sector as a political consultant. He also worked with George W. Bush's campaign during the Florida recount last year.
A behind-the-scenes strategist, Enwright was the political advisor to former state Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade when the GOP took control of Florida government in the 1990s.
"We've got him right here, which is exactly what I want," said David Johnson, executive director of the Florida Republican Party. "He is one of the best voter program operatives in the country as far as identifying and turning out the vote for Republicans. I'm glad he's here."