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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dick Cheney is star of Florida GOP's weekend of soap opera story lines



Let's say you're the Florida Republican Party looking for a top-draw speaker for your annual Statesman Dinner gala fundraiser. Keep in mind, this is a volatile election cycle in which much of the party base is antagonistic to the GOP establishment and on top of that one of your top home state presidential candidates, Jeb Bush, is struggling to separate himself from brother George W. Bush and father George H.W. Bush.

Who better than Dick Cheney?

No joke. Unlikely as it sounds, the 74-year-old former vice president who left office in 2009 with just 13 percent of American voters having a favorable impression of him will be the keynote speaker tonight as the state GOP kicks off a weekend featuring every major presidential candidate and then some.

"This is an exciting time as Republicans across Florida come together for our Party’s Annual Statesman dinner," the party said in a statement announcing 950 tickets sold to the dinner at Disney World's Contemporary Resort. "The road to the White House goes through Florida, and our grassroots leaders and volunteers are ready to continue building the resources and grassroots organization needed to make 2016 successful for Republicans.”

Cheney remains a popular figure with a large chunk of the Republican base, and few people so enthusiastically excoriate Barack Obama's record as the former veep who has called Obama the worst president in his lifetime. Cheney and his daughter Liz in September published "EXCEPTIONAL: Why the World Needs a Powerful America," a book that rips Obama's national security and foreign policy record.

The timing of his appearance tonight is actually only one of several potentially awkward political soap opera story lines playing out this weekend in Orlando.

Cheney's address to the Florida GOP comes as the just-released biography of the 41st president, "Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush," reveals that the father of Jeb and George W. thought Cheney had changed since he served as his defense secetary.

“Just iron-ass. His seeming knuckling under to the real hard-charging guys who want to fight about everything, use force to get our way in the Middle East," the senior Bush told biographer John Meacham.

Jeb Bush once again finds himself having to talk about his brother's administration.  

"He served my brother well as vice president," he said of Cheney last week.

After tonight's fundraising dinner at Disney World, the party activists move to Orlando's Rosen Shingle Creek resort for the two-day Sunshine Summit featuring all the major candidates. The national media's attention clearly will be focused on how well received are Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio before their home-state crowd. Rubio gets to double-dip, speaking after Cheney Thursday night as well as Friday.

"All eyes will be on Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio," said Steve Scully, Executive Producer of C-SPAN's "Road To The White House" which will air the speeches of all 14 Republican candidates attending. 

"The Orlando Sunshine Summit will likely include many attendees who supported Jeb Bush for governor and Marco Rubio for senator, and who voted for both of them. But they can only vote for one Floridian in the primary, so this is a threshold moment for both."

Some party activists wanted to hold a non-binding "straw poll" vote on the presidential field, but state party officials balked.

The average of recent Florida polls compiled by shows Donald Trump leading among Florida Republicans with 29 percent support, followed by Ben Carson with 17 percent, Rubio with 15 percent, Bush with 9 percent, Ted Cruz with 8 percent, and Carly Fiorina with nearly 6 percent.

The summit begins at 10:30 a.m. Friday. Speakers include party chairman Blaise Ingoglia, Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Sen. Marco Rubio, Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. David Jolly, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Gov. Mike Huckabee, former party Chairman Al Cardenas, Senate candidate Todd Wilcox, Bush, Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, Senate candidate and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and Ben Carson.

Saturday speakers include Frank Luntz, Senate candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, Rick Santorum, state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, state Rep. Mike Hill, Gov. Bobby Jindal. Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Chris Christie, Gov. John Kasich, Carly Fiorina.

[Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2015 10:15am]


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