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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rod Smith close to winning Florida Democratic Party Chair



Former Sen. Rod Smith, the recently defeated Democratic Lt. Gov candidate and a 2006 failed gubernatorial candidate, looks like he is pulling together enough supports to replace Karen Thurman, outgoing Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, who saw one of the worst-ever defeats of her party at the polls Nov. 2.

A number of current and former lawmakers say Thurman, whom we can't reach, favors Smith, whom we can't reach. And so do they.

Smith, an electrifying speaker and former prosecutor, is a good fit. He's well respected. He knows the legislative and electoral process. He understands the state, having run twice statewide. He's a strong fundraiser. He's well-liked by the gun lobby and agriculture community.

But does he look like the face of the Democratic Party in Florida?

Smith is from Alachua, about as far away culturally from Allapattah or South St. Pete or any other urban black district (i.e., the Democratic Party base) as you can get. But at least he's not from Tampa Bay, home of the three previous Democratic losers: Alex Sink, Jim Davis and Bill McBride. All failed to gin up the South Florida and minority vote. All of them lost. Then again, Buddy MacKay didn't fare much better in 1998 against Jeb Bush.

Smith, essentially a no-show on the campaign trail this year, was the spearhead of the failed strategy to appeal to white, rural voters and conservative Democrats, who appeared to vote in droves for Republican Rick Scott's ticket. Meantime, South Florida Democrats -- and especially black Democrats -- felt a little left out. So many stayed home.

Sink bears more blame for that than Smith. And perhaps Barack Obama and U.S. Senate Democrats are even more to blame. But still, it raises questions about whether the Democratic party is doomed in Florida mid-term elections. Or have they not had the right candidate or party leader? Is Smith the guy who can help inspire enough Democrats -- who have a 600,000 registration edge over Republicans -- to actually vote the ticket? Can Smith actually get the party to run an effective absentee-ballot and early-vote program that matches the Republican Party of Florida? Obviously, we'll see (first he has to be named chair).

-- Marc Caputo, Times/Herald staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 1:22pm]


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