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Florida: ground zero for Republican candidates

Where does one go after announcing a candidacy for president? Florida, of course.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is set to make his long-expected presidential announcement Monday in Iowa and then hop on a plane for Tampa Bay. Pawlenty plans to hold a private fundraiser and meet-and-greet events before heading to Coral Gables on Tuesday, where he will host private meetings and a Facebook town hall meeting.

Florida will be his base if Huntsman runs

Underscoring Florida's importance in the race, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman plans to base his campaign in Orlando — where his wife grew up — if he does jump into the race that he's currently exploring. Florida, which is expected the be the first mega-state and fifth contest in the primary, is sure to be a key part of Huntsman's strategy for winning the nomination.

"Everybody in politics knows Florida is a microcosm for what's happening across the country, and if you can do well in Florida, you can well nationally," said Nikki Jerger Lowery, who will serve as Florida director if Huntsman runs.

Tampa Bay and Tallahassee politicos may remember Lowery from her days working for the Realtors in Pinellas and for Suncoast Tiger Bay. She later worked for Jeb Bush as his director of external affairs.

Lowery was set to work for Haley Barbour until the Mississippi governor opted not to run. Then Huntsman's people sought her out.

"The more I learned about him, the more I liked him," Lowery said, calling Huntsman the Republicans' best shot at putting a fiscal conservative in the White House. "I like that he's interesting and not just a run-of-the-mill politician."

Huntsman's Florida connections also include senior advisers Susie and Lanny Wiles of Jacksonville.

Bondi in Israel, but not on taxpayers' dime

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi headed to Israel Friday to announced today that she's touring that country along with some of her counterparts from other states and meeting with Israeli officials to discuss social, economic and political issues.

Bondi's press office said no tax money is being used to pay for the trip, sponsored by the America-Israel Friendship League, the National Association of Attorneys General, and the State of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

No apologies from Haridopolos for running …

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, told a Leadership Pasco group last week that the Legislature would work better if presiding officers were barred from running for other offices while serving (like state Senate President Mike Haridopolos) and took oaths promising not to go into lobbying. (Many people expect House Speaker Dean Cannon to get into lobbying.)

Haridopolos makes no apologies.

"I wasn't at home on Twitter or on Facebook. I was in Tallahassee doing the people's business," he said, making a dig at U.S. Senate rivals Adam Hasner and George LeMieux, in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

… And he's no longer on payroll of bankrupt appliance company

Haridopolos tells the Buzz he is no longer earning $5,000 a month as a business and marketing consultant to Market Share Systems, a subsidiary of Appliance Direct, which has paid him nearly $200,000 since 2007. Appliance Direct, whose lobbyist is a top adviser to Haridopolos, recently filed for bankruptcy protection.

"Like a lot of business, they're having a difficult time. I'm not working with them any more," Haridopolos said.

Winner
of the week

Alvin Brown. There's a new Democratic star in Florida, the mayor-elect of Jacksonville. Even Republicans who worked hard to defeat him quietly acknowledge Brown had a strong centrist message blended with likability and vision. Runnerup: Rod Smith. The state Democratic chairman bet against the odds and invested heavily in Brown's campaign and ended up helping revive his party's image.

Loser
of the week

Paul Hawkes. Political connections helped put the former legislator on the 1st District Court of Appeals. Hubris may get him tossed off the bench. A Judicial Qualifications Committee investigation into his role pushing for the lavish $50 million "Taj Mahal" courthouse in Tallahassee contended he was unfit to serve after he destroyed records, bullied employees and "brought the entire judiciary of the state of Florida into disrepute."

Florida: ground zero for Republican candidates 05/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 8:39am]
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