Most of the political world in Tallahassee is convinced Charlie Crist will give up his governor's seat to run for the U.S. Senate, so what about Alex Sink?
More and more, the Democratic chief financial officer looks like someone gearing up for a major statewide race — say, an open governor's seat — rather than a low-profile re-election campaign with no strong challenger on the horizon.
Sink has raised her public profile lately on issues ranging from antifraud protection for seniors to chastising potential gubernatorial rival Bill McCollum over publicly funded TV ads featuring the Republican attorney general.
She has added veteran political hands to her office payroll. And at a time when many state politicians are consumed with the budget crisis in Tallahassee, Sink has been organizing campaign fundraising receptions from Tallahassee to Tampa to Miami.
"It makes sense to be doing things in terms of raising her profile … in terms of the kind of activity of showing you're getting ready," said Democratic consultant Bernie Campbell of Tampa. "If the governor makes that decision, a whole set of dominoes are going to fall across the state, and it makes sense to prepare. Whether she runs for governor or not, the smart move is to be prepared."
Sink, whose husband, Bill McBride, unsuccessfully ran for governor against Jeb Bush in 2002, could not be reached for comment on this report, but a spokeswoman would not rule out a gubernatorial run.
"She is keeping her options on the table right now," spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said. "The CFO is excited about running for re-election, but if the situation were to change, she would look at all the options."
Sink, 60, is widely viewed as the strongest Democratic contender for a statewide race, but she is still largely unknown to most voters. A January Quinnipiac University poll found 70 percent of Florida voters did not know enough to form an opinion about her.
She considered running for the Senate seat to be vacated by Republican Mel Martinez in 2010, but ruled that out in mid January. Many supporters believed she preferred to aim for governor in 2014 after Crist would have to leave office because of term limits.
Speculation has steadily increased since then that Crist might jump into the Senate race, though the governor says he won't make a decision until after the legislative session ends in May.
Just as that speculation grew, so did Sink's public profile. In January, her office issued nine press releases, compared with 15 so far this month. In recent days she has been front and center at a PTA rally in Tallahassee, and holding news conferences on budget transparency and Florida getting its "fair share" of federal money.
She has brought in a politically savvy new deputy chief of staff, Stephanie Grutman, who previously worked with U.S. Rep. Ron Klein and with Planned Parenthood. Her new communications director, Jennings, is a veteran of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The state GOP late Monday issued an unusually tough attack on Sink, blaming her for assorted Democrats criticizing Attorney General McCollum's public service ads about online predators that critics said looked like McCollum promotions.
"As the statewide leader of the Democrat Party, Alex Sink should immediately call upon the Florida Democrats to stop their political witch hunt against Florida's Child Predator Cybercrime Unit," said Florida Republican chairman Jim Greer.
Sink brushed off the criticism Tuesday: "I don't respond to rants, I respond to facts," she said. "I'm on record as generally being opposed to the concept of no-bid contracts whenever possible. This was a no-bid contract to General McCollum's political consultant, and it just seems like it might not be an appropriate use of state money."
Greer took another shot at Sink on Tuesday after she told the Associated Press the state should consider investing in the toxic assets of troubled banks.
"Alex Sink may be willing to make a deal with devil to in an attempt to enhance Florida's investment portfolio, but taxpayers will not support this incredibly risky move with their dollars," Greer said. "As a former bank executive, Alex Sink should know the perilous potential outcome of even considering purchasing toxic assets."
Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau chief Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8241.