TALLAHASSEE — In the next few weeks, the candidates for governor face a decision fraught with danger: choosing a running mate for the obscure position of lieutenant governor.
"There's little to gain and there's always some risk when you pick a running mate," said J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, a strategist who was chief of staff to former Gov. Bob Martinez, a Republican.
In a process that's historically top secret, Republicans Bill McCollum and Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink are considering running mates who they believe will enhance their chances in November. McCollum and Tom Grady? Scott and Paula Dockery? Sink and Rod Smith?
Factors most often cited are a need to balance the ticket by gender, philosophy or geography or a combination of all three. Personal compatibility counts, too.
"We have a selection and vetting process in place. We are not discussing it, and we are not discussing timing or potential candidates," said McCollum campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.
Mentioned as possible McCollum mates are Rep. Grady, R-Naples, who's not seeking re-election after one term, and House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, who's term-limited. For Scott, speculation centers on Dockery, a state senator from Lakeland whose maverick bid for governor was derailed by Scott's free-spending candidacy.
Only two candidates will actually have to choose a partner: By law, the nominees have until 5 p.m. Sept. 2, nine days after the Aug. 24 primary, to make their choices. By then, either McCollum or Scott will have lost.
The candidates aren't talking, but that won't stop speculation over who's in the running.
"(Sink) is actively looking at who would be the best fit for her in the governor's office," said Steve Schale, a Democratic consultant advising the chief financial officer.
For months, Sink is said to have been considering Smith, a successful Gainesville lawyer and former state senator who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.
Smith said he and Sink have not discussed the subject.
"I'm sure that she will pick the person that she believes would meet whatever criteria she sets," Smith said. "It's not as simple as just geography."
Other names floated as potential Sink running mates are former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Rep. Keith Fitzgerald of Sarasota.
Scott, running a highly unorthodox but effective campaign as a self-financed newcomer with no political experience, will have to decide whether to pick another outsider or someone who can be relied upon to deal with the Legislature.
Scott's campaign won't discuss names. On a statewide bus tour that ended in Pensacola on Monday night, Scott said he wants someone who would be capable of performing as governor, agrees with his priorities and can help get his agenda passed.
"I think it's helpful to have people that have legislative experience, but there's so many things you have to think about," Scott said.
Dockery issued a statement Monday. "Rick Scott and I have discussed numerous issues and our shared desire to clean up the culture of corruption in Tallahassee. Neither of us have mentioned the LG position during those conversations," she said.
The selection of a running mate can go awry, as former Gov. Jeb Bush learned the hard way twice.
In 1994, he chose state Rep. Tom Feeney, whose hard-right views alienated centrist voters, and the Bush-Feeney ticket lost a close race. In 1998, Bush chose Sandra Mortham, who withdrew following news stories of questionable spending in the Secretary of State's Office she headed.
Bush's third pick, Frank Brogan, was a witty and well-liked county school superintendent who ideally complemented Bush and helped steer through an ambitious education agenda.
When Lawton Chiles emerged from retirement to run for governor, his running mate was Buddy MacKay, the Ocala-area U.S. representative who was instrumental in convincing Chiles to run.
MacKay's liberal tendencies reassured South Florida voters unsure about Chiles and his homespun "cracker" conservatism.
A dozen years earlier, Bob Graham, then an obscure state senator from Miami Lakes, went to the Florida Panhandle and chose Wayne Mixson of Marianna, and the Graham-Mixson ticket roared to two solid victories.
The job of lieutenant governor did not exist until 1968, and it carries no specific legal responsibilities other than filling in when the governor is incapacitated. The only requirements are to have lived in the state for at least seven years and be at least 30 years old.
Salary: $124,851 a year.
Times/Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas, Lee Logan and John Frank contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.