Even as they aimed most of their fire at Gov. Rick Scott during last weekend’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, Democrats said they weren’t focused exclusively on Scott.
In fact, party leaders say, they are working to undermine one of the bulwarks of Republican dominance in Florida government — a near-stranglehold on statewide offices, with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson serving as the only statewide elected official in a state that President Barack Obama carried twice.
Aside from Scott, the state GOP also counts among its elected officials U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio; Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Rubio will not be on the ballot in 2014, but all three Cabinet officers will go before voters along with Scott.
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant said her party is laying the groundwork for all the statewide contests.
“We’re actively recruiting for the Cabinet right now,” Tant said. “We are not leaving any stone unturned. We are going to look at every race that we can and we’re going to be very aggressive in playing in all of them, including [the] governor’s race.”
Tant told reporters she has already met with a candidate to take on Atwater and is speaking with two potential challengers for Bondi. But she declined to name them.
“In fact, I know we’re going to have a CFO race,” she said. “I know we’re going to have an AG’s race. I’d actually like to have an ag race.”
Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said he’s not overly worried. Curry said the Cabinet formed an “All-Star bench” for Republicans. And he highlighted Tant’s refusal to allow former state Sen. Nan Rich, a candidate for governor, to speak at the dinner and a dispute about the accuracy of an infographic Democrats issued saying the dinner was a success.
“If that level of organization is the kind of folks that are trying to recruit candidates, it’s almost laughable,” he said.
The reason that Democrats find themselves in such a hole on statewide offices, Tant told WFOR’s “Facing South Florida,” has its roots in past maps of congressional and legislative districts that she said were Republican gerrymanders.
“Because of that, we haven’t been able to get folks in good enough position so that they are well-known enough so that they can run,” she said.
Democrats are also hoping to make progress in the Florida congressional delegation, where they currently hold 10 of 27 seats. The party’s targets include U.S. Reps. Steve Southerland, Daniel Webster and C.W. “Bill” Young.
And Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who doubles as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said her party could make even more progress if the congressional maps are thrown out by the courts for violating the state’s anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts standards.
“If the districts are drawn truly fairly, then … we will probably have more opportunities,” she said.
The state GOP is also getting ready to fight in some congressional districts, Curry said, focusing on the “nuts and bolts” of campaigning, like a turnout operation that could also help Scott and other Republican candidates. Curry has also hammered Democratic candidates like Gwen Graham, running against Southerland, on whether they would support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker if the party regains control of the House.
“This still resonates with people,” Curry said of the Pelosi question. “She’s a household name in many homes, and they just don’t like her.”
–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida