Democrats gathering for their annual fundraising dinner at the Westin Diplomat Resort on Saturday were certain of one thing: They will defeat Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a little more than a year.
“Rick Scott will be a one-term governor,” declared Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant to the 1,300 who gathered in a ballroom for the dinner. “Come January 2015, Rick Scott will hand the keys to the Governor’s Mansion over to Democratic hands.”
But which hands will receive those keys, should Tant’s vision of the future come true, remains unclear.
Democrats have a few potential candidates to take on Scott in 2014, when the so-far unpopular governor goes back before voters. But they have a shortage of declared candidates; the only one who has currently said she’s running is former state Sen. Nan Rich, whose exclusion from the speaker’s list at Saturday’s event drew publicity. (Tant said she was going to send an in-kind contribution reporting form to Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry for calling attention to the flap — and the dinner.)
The three other candidates most often mentioned — former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who has since switched parties; former Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who came up just short of beating Scott as the party’s nominee in 2014; and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only remaining Democrat in statewide office — have said they haven’t made up their mind yet or, in Nelson’s case, denied any interest at all.
And so what appears to be unprecedented enthusiasm among Democrats to win in 2014, with the dinner raising a record of $850,000 in confirmed contributions, is so far pointed against Scott even with the lack of a single candidate who has cleared the field.
“What it shows you is that people are so anxious for a change they almost don’t care who the person is,” Tant said shortly before the event.
National party officials are also, so far, unconcerned.
“I think whoever the Democratic nominee is will beat Rick Scott,” said Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who doubles as chair of the Democratic National Committee. “…It’s just going to be a matter of who is going to be able to get organized and focused and build the momentum.”
The undeclared candidates are so far playing things close to the vest.
“Obviously, I’m giving it very serious consideration, and I’m looking forward to making a decision before too long,” Crist told reporters who asked about a potential run.
And while he might demur on whether he’ll take on Scott, Crist was ready when asked about the incumbent’s focus on the job losses of Crist’s term and the job gains in more recent years.
“I’m not going to take credit for the global economic meltdown, and I don’t think he should take credit for the jobs that are coming in thanks to President Obama,” Crist said.
Sink said she hasn’t ruled out taking another shot at Scott, but said one of the largest factors in her decision right now is whether she could see herself taking on the race without the late Bill McBride, her husband.
“He very much wanted me to run again,” she said. “But, you know, he’s not here to go home to every night and be my cheerleader.”
The one who has been most emphatic about his intentions is Nelson, who once again told reporters that he wasn’t looking to throw his hat in the ring.
“First of all, you’ve heard me say it 100 times, and I’ll say it again: I have no plans to run for governor. I have no intention of running for governor,” he said.
But Nelson ripped into Scott during his speech at the dinner, and has continued to draw rumors about a possible bid — something he dismissed as a result of some of the unpopular stances Scott has taken.
“That’s why people are upset,” Nelson said. “And they’re looking for someone that can take him on and win.”
Others seem more than happy to float trial balloons for Nelson. During her remarks to the dinner, Wasserman Schultz noted that Nelson had gone from a state legislator to congressman to Florida insurance commissioner to U.S. Senator.
“Now, there seems to be a pattern here,” she said. “Tallahassee, DC, Tallahassee, DC. Hmm. Just saying. Just an observation.”
There were laughs and some scattered applause.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida
A video the Florida Democratic Party released on June 16:
Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Florida Continues Its Preemptive Strikes on Charlie Crist: