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Democrats jockey to take reins of state party

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman said she will probably announce her next step this week.

Associated Press (2009)

Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Karen Thurman said she will probably announce her next step this week.

Fresh off an across-the-board electoral drubbing last week, Democratic activists are jockeying to elect their first new state party chief in five years.

There has been no official announcement from party chairwoman Karen Thurman, but well before Election Day she told some prominent Democrats she expected to step down after this year. In the past week, she has not tried to stop several Democrats from lining up support to replace her.

Thurman said she would probably announce her next step this week after meetings with the party staff in Tallahassee.

"I'm making some decisions," Thurman said in an interview. "Anytime you go through something like this you have to take some time and work through it — look at an analysis of the results and see what happened."

The former U.S. representative from Dunnellon was first elected party chairwoman in 2005 and is halfway through her second four-year term.

An election is likely in January, and activists are expecting a crowded field of contenders.

"I think this speaks positive volumes for the state of the Florida Democratic Party when so many folks are interested in taking the helm," said Broward Democratic chairman Mitch Ceasar. "The interest is encouraging and contrary to the public political chatter. The reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated."

Among the names in the mix: Hillsborough state committeeman Alan Clendenin; Pasco Democratic chairwoman Alison Morano; Miami-Dade chairman Richard Lydecker, whose candidacy is being touted by Sen. Bill Nelson's aides; Palm Beach Democratic chairman Mark Siegel; state House minority leader Franklin Sands of Weston; and vice chairman Rhett Bullard of Hamilton County.

With the support of Nelson — Florida's senior Democrat — Lydecker becomes the ostensible front-runner.

"I've spoken with Bill Nelson, and he's supporting me,'' said Lydecker, 44, a former prosecutor who was picked by Thurman to head the Miami-Dade Democratic organization in response to complaints that the previous chairman had been browbeating the staff and shaking down candidates.

Citing nine years of experience building a law firm, he said the party needs someone who can "run the organization in an efficient businesslike manner." Specifically, he said, the Democrats need to restructure their get-out-the-vote operation and the way they provide help to candidates.

The Republican tide that rolled across much of the country took a huge toll on Florida Democrats, who had high hopes that Alex Sink could win back the Governor's Mansion. Instead, she barely lost, while the GOP picked off the only Cabinet seat held by the Democrats, gained four U.S. House seats, five state House seats and two state Senate seats.

The lack of high-profile Democrats in Tallahassee has some party activists arguing that it's especially important to have someone who not only can raise money but also communicate well and is accustomed to dealing with the media.

Former chief financial officer candidate Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee and former congressional candidate Joe Garcia of Miami fit that bill, but each would have to be elected as a home county party officer to be eligible.

Eric Jotkoff, the Democratic spokesman, said the party is in better shape than last week's results might suggest, pointing to an improved voter database, volunteer network and fundraising.

"While we came up short on Election Day, the Florida Democratic Party is stronger than it's ever been as an organization," he said.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Michael C. Bender and Beth Reinhard of the Miami Herald contributed to this report. Adam Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

Democrats jockey to take reins of state party 11/08/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 8, 2010 10:25pm]

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