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Don't write off Alex Sink running for Florida governor just yet

TAMPA — Alex Sink barely lost the 2010 governor's race to Rick Scott, and as she weighs whether to take him on again there is no shortage of armchair shrinks speculating about her thinking:

• The sudden death in December of her husband, former gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride, was too big a blow for her to run another grueling campaign without him.

• Sink wants to run because she needs to throw herself into something big and all-consuming after McBride's death.

• She resents all the attention on lifelong-Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist and is intent on being courted for as long as possible.

• She resents Crist so much, his expected candidacy would ensure she jumps in.

"Don't waste your time," Sink said Tuesday in a 45-minute interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "You're going to talk to people and they'll tell you I'm definitely running or that I'm definitely not. That's only because I'm not subtle enough to be giving little hints out there."

Sink will decide by Sept. 1, but she sounded nothing like a retired politician merely intent on keeping her name in the mix. She spoke angrily about the direction of the state under Gov. Scott — "I mean, pick a day. Read the newspaper. This governor's incompetent" — and was nearly as revolted by the prospect of Crist as the Democratic nominee.

"A disaster" is how she described the possibility.

The campaign against former Gov. Crist would be brutal, she said, noting the job losses during his term, flip-flops on issues, "plus all the stuff that hasn't been written about yet, about the Republican Party fiasco, about Jim Greer, about the party in the Bahamas," she said, referring to Crist's hand-picked GOP chairman, now in prison for stealing party funds and who was accused of hiring prostitutes at a fundraising retreat Crist attended.

She is 65 but looks at least 10 years younger.

And she is brimming with ideas, from developing a bold, long-term transportation plan to ensuring that liberal arts degrees focused on critical thinking and communication skills are not forsaken amid the emphasis on math, science and technology.

Sink blasted what she sees as a pay-to-play culture in Republican-controlled Tallahassee and scoffed at legislative leaders, the governor's office and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater for suggesting they had nothing to do with Citizens Insurance recently approving a controversial $52 million deal with a new, private insurance company.

"That's just more B.S.," said Sink, who ran Bank of America's Florida operations and now leads a think tank, Florida Next, assisting small businesses and entrepreneurs. She also works at an investment banking firm and serves on several corporate boards.

She acknowledged she hasn't done as much campaign ground work as she could have by now, such as meeting with consultants and fundraisers, but said that after two statewide campaigns she has plenty of contacts to ramp up fast. She also knows what she would do differently in 2014: Focus much more on mobilizing voters in Democrat-rich Palm Beach and Broward counties.

She is under no illusions about what it will take to beat an incumbent governor planning to spend at least $100 million on his re-election.

"It would certainly be all-consuming. If I do this, I'm on a mission. I'm on a mission to talk to and listen to Floridians about what kind of Florida they want," she said in her downtown Tampa office. "All these people who think it's going to be easy to beat Rick Scott, they're wrong. They are very wrong."

On Saturday, she and her grown son and daughter attended the state Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson gala dinner, an event where she and her late husband had been regulars for more than two decades. Much of the media coverage barely mentioned Sink and instead focused on Crist, attending his first JJ dinner.

On Tuesday, Quinnipiac University released a poll showing Crist comfortably leading Scott. It didn't even include Sink, seeming to reflect the widely held view that the ever-cautious former bank executive ultimately won't run.

Sink herself all but closed the door in a February interview with the Associated Press: "Without a husband, without the person that I relied on the most to shore me up and give me good advice. That's changed. That's changed everything," she said then. "Right this minute, if you're asking me, it's off the table. I'm not prepared to say, 'No I'm not,' but I'm much further away from a run today than I was three months ago."

Sink on Tuesday: "It's been six months since Bill has been gone, and I know I have to think about my future and my future life. I don't control the political calendar, and to me the political calendar says if you're going to make a run for governor, you've got to get started by the first of September."

On Thanksgiving, she and her family discussed her running again. McBride wanted her to run. Her children "were totally against the idea," she said. They agreed not to make a decision until this summer.

Another person who could make up her mind? Sen. Bill Nelson. If he runs, Sink said, she will enthusiastically support him.

Nelson has said repeatedly he has no plans to run, but Sink agrees he could get in the race by the end of this year if, say, Crist, Sink or state Sen. Nan Rich, show little sign of traction.

Some of Florida's top Democratic fundraisers, she said, already are signaling they won't support anyone until they know for sure if Nelson is out.

"He's got a little bit more of an effort going on than (people realize)," Sink said of Nelson.

Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com.

Don't write off Alex Sink running for Florida governor just yet 06/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 11:51am]
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