The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

5 things we think about the race for Fla Dem Chair

11

January

1. We really have no clear sense of whether Tampa activist Alan Clendenin or former lobbyist Allison Tant will win the Jan. 26 vote to succeed Rod Smith.  At first blush Clendenin, a retired air traffic controller and union activist calling for a more bottom-up approach, would seem to have the edge – especially after party leaders in the Democratic strongholds of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County on Tuesday signed a pledge to cast all their votes for Clendenin.

Pledge, smedge. Less than a day later, one of those six officials, Palm Beach state Committeeman John Ramos announced he would support Tant. A running tally of declared votes compiled by Tallahassee activist Jon Ausman has Clendenin with 438 votes - about 77 percent of what it will take to win - and Tant with 337 - about 60 percent of what's needed. Tant told Buzz she has closer to 400 votes locked down, and she benefits from ongoing, aggressive arm-twisting from her longtime pal Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Our guess? In the end Tant will be the next chair of the state Democratic party. She has overwhelming support from the party establishment, including Wasserman Schultz, Sen. Bill Nelson, most of the Democratic congressional delegation, and the teachers union. The party establishment usually wins out in these races. 

2. State party staffers ought to be worried. Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the state party, will almost certainly be looking for a new job if Clendenin wins. Hard to see how Clendenin would retain a top staffer who actively campaigned for Tant.

3. The shadow of the 2014 gubernatorial race hangs over the election. It may not be accurate, but plenty of players in this party chairmanship drama see repercussions for the race to take on Gov. Rick Scott.

Tant is a top fundraiser for Barack Obama, whose political team clearly has fond feelings for Republican-turned Democrat Charlie Crist, while Clendenin's base of support comes from the grassroots where skepticism about Crist is widespread. That may help to explain why Alex Sink, Crist's toughest potential rival for the Democratic nomination, backs Clendenin.

For the record, Tant says that as chairman she and the party would remain steadfastly neutral in any Democratic primary for governor and that she has no preferred candidate.

4. Wasserman Schultz has diminished her reputation. The Broward Democrat may well wind up delivering the chairmanship to Tant, but the difficulty the DNC chairwoman has had snuffing a challenge from an obscure activist like Clendenin, hardly signals vast influence among her home state party activists.

5. Political influence comes from all directions. One of the more striking elements of this heated race has been the role of a relatively new political blog, the Political Hurricane run by former Democratic operatives. It has relentlessly blasted Tant over everything from a few donations to Republicans to supposedly being a puppet of inept consultants long-favored by party leaders.

It's an excellent blog that has had party regulars buzzing - and it was founded by a little known former consultant, Dave Trotter, who voted for Ralph Nader over Obama in 2008. It's stunning that someone who voted against Obama in 2008 because he considered him too conservative would presume to know what's best for Florida's most loyal Democrats.

[Last modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 2:17pm]

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