On one of the biggest days of his political life, state Rep. Tom Feeney overslept.
It was last month, the morning before the Republican gubernatorial primary. As front-runner Jeb Bush's running mate, Feeney was supposed to be one of the star attractions at a big rally at a downtown Orlando hotel.
He arrived just as the event ended.
Facing up to Bush, he apologized profusely, and earnestly promised it wouldn't happen again. As Bush told the story later, he told Feeney he would get back to him on his punishment.
"It was like a puppy dog who had just taken a crap in the kitchen," Bush said.
Despite the inelegant description, Feeney has been an integral part of the Bush campaign, shoring up support from right-wing Republicans and shouldering a large part of the criticism for the ticket's controversial platform.
But the 36-year-old lawyer from Orlando, who has spent four years in the Legislature, had little statewide name recognition when Bush tapped him as his running mate last June, and the road to having a greater presence has sometimes been rocky.
Chiles' campaign has strongly criticized Feeney, whose legislative career has been marked by fewer pieces of completed legislation than by attempts to press a conservative agenda that includes opposition to abortion and support for parents who are accused of abusing their children. Feeney, who in 1993 was named the Christian Coalition's legislator of the year, also has pushed bills that would give paren ts government-issued vouchers to pay for sending their children to the school of their choice.
Chiles has been issuing a "Feeney fact of the day" for the past few weeks, citing bills and resolutions the legislator has filed or reporting -- in some cases, out of context -- remarks he had made in public.
Among the resolutions that Chiles has criticized was one that called for Florida and other states to secede from the Union if the federal deficit didn't stop growing. Although the resolution ne ver was heard on the House floor, Chiles' aides have depicted it as an attempt to overthrow the United States.
The press releases from Chiles always end with a line from a St. Petersburg Times story published last August in which Feeney was quoted as saying, "Jeb Bush has chosen me because we think alike."
Bush has made no effort to hide that fact. When he introduced Feeney as his running mate, Bush said he was not seeking to balance his candidacy on such factors as age, gender or ideology.
"In the end," Bush said, "I decided not to hedge, not to take out an insurance policy against my own philosophy and my own vision of Florida. I asked myself if I really wanted to run with someone who doesn't agree with me on the issues that I feel very strongly about. The answer is no."
Feeney added: "This is not a conservative ticket in the traditional (sense of) no, no, no, where we're against every proposal the other guy has."
Feeney is a Pennsylvania native who moved to Florida after finishing law school at the University of Pittsburgh in 1983. He got a job practicing real estate law in Orlando after passing the Florida bar exam and soon got involved in politics.
But with his relatively unknown name, Feeney was an unconvential choice for Bush. Even members of Bush's own family didn't know who he was.
When Bush's 11-year-old son, Jeb Jr., who has traveled extensively with his father this year, returned to Florida in August after an extended trip to his grandparents' home in Kennebunkport, Maine, he spotted a bumper sticker on the campaign's bus that said, "Bush/Feeney."
"Dad," Jeb Jr. said, "who's Feeney?"
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