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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Assessing the would-be Democratic governor candidates



PHILADELPHIA — Florida Democrats gathered in Pennsylvania this week may have been focused on electing Hillary Clinton in 2016, but they also witnessed unmistakable jockeying for Florida governor in 2018.

We are in the invisible primary phase of that open governor's race, where the prospects quietly laying the groundwork and generate buzz among the partisan activists and fundraisers who pay attention long before more sensible people do. As hundreds of Florida delegates to the Democratic convention gathered for daily breakfasts this week in a downtown Marriott, three of the four leading prospects for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine debuted stump speeches (or at least showed off their speaking skills). The fourth, state Sen Jeremy Ring of Broward County, did not attend, but the early Yahoo executive already is actively courting prospective donors nationally from the high tech world.

The field represents north Florida, central Florida and south Florida, and every one of these would-be nominees happen to be pragmatic, pro-business, candidates. Each is a credible — and potentially strong — candidate.

"We have the bench that people complain about and it's at the municipal level, where we have not been gerrymandered," said Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant, referring also to Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Let's review the gov candidate performances:


For sheer, red meat energy, Buckhorn, 57, blew away Levine and Graham. He might have sounded a bit too polished and politiciany a speaker for some tastes, but his lofty rhetoric and fiery style brought delegates to their feet cheering.

"No one ever told Hillary Clinton that this was going to be easy. But I know this Florida Democrats: We didn't bring her this far to leave her now. Florida Democrats, America needs Hillary Clinton! America's cities need Hillary Clinton! America's mayors need Hillary Clinton! And to paraphrase Alecia Keys, that girl is on fire! No, we're not done Florida Democrats, we're going to go out and win! We're going to walk, we're going to call — and in 2018 because we know what it's like to elect a tea party millionaire, we know what it's like to give back $3-billion in rail money that could have provided thousands of jobs and a rail system from Orlando to Tampa! know what it's like to have a government that doesn't know the difference between toxic green algae and guacamole! We know what it's like to turn back hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid money that would have served thousands of us! We know what what's it's like to have a government that paid more attention to (NRA lobbyist) Marion Hammer and less attention to Mother Teresa … We're going to win in 2016, we're going to break their barrier, and then we're coming back in 2018 and we're taking our state back!!!"

Side note: For a guy who almost went out of his way to criticize Charlie Crist and undercut his campaign against Rick Scott in 2014, some Democrats may find Buckhornt's anti-Scott rhetoric rings hollow.


The convention this week seemed like the soft-opening of Graham's gubernatorial campaign. No one strikes me as more likely to run than does Graham, 53. She even used a TelePrompTer to help her delivery.

"Some of our friends from across the country may be thinking, Seriously? How can someone like (Trump) get elected? Well, unfortunately in Florida we've seen what can happen when the far right candidate wins even when nobody thinks they can win. And I have two word for you: Rick Scott. And make no mistake, Rick Scott and Donald Trump are cut from the same wing of the Republican party — not the conservative wing, but the con man wing. If you want to know what could happen to America, just look what's happened in our beautiful state … .We're the third largest state in America, it's time to start acting like it. I believe in a Florida where every child regardless of their background, will have the opportunity to succeed. Where every child will get the education he or she needs. where we actually create new jobs, not just go out poaching them from other states. A Florida where our children can swim in clean water and drink safe water …"

Side note: A TelePrompTer? She said it was her first time using one, but still. If you can't wing it on a seven-minute breakfast speech to party activists, you probably have work to do. It also made her sound VERY rehearsed.

PHILIP LEVINE: Needs work.

Levine, 54, cut a check to help sponsor the delegation breakfasts, but his low key remarks about his record promoting a minimum wage increase, responding to sea level rise in Miami Beach, and attending the same Boston school as JFK, had many delegates paying more attention to their eggs and bacon than him.

"I think today people across the country people are looking for a leader who has a background of actually getting things done. As you know, it's kind of like having that weird, unique thing in your background … It's called a job. A lot of times people want people in public office who have actually had a job that know how to get things done … .(On the GOP convention) it's a little bit like last week we were watching Nick and Night or TVLand. It should have been in black and white because all of it was about the past as opposed to the future."

Side note: That job line clearly is aimed at longtime pol Buckhorn. Levine is a self-made multimillionaire whose financial advantage could more than compensate for lack of public speaking prowess.

[Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2016 10:00pm]


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