TAMPA — U.S. Sen. Pam Iorio?
She's bright and telegenic, and comes from the region most important to statewide political aspirations.
On Tuesday, the Tampa mayor confirmed that she's taking a serious look at running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Republican Mel Martinez.
"I'm analyzing it. I like to gather a lot of facts before I make decisions," said Iorio, a 49-year-old Democrat. "The appeal of it is to be able to make a difference on national issues. If I feel I could make a difference and represent the state of Florida well, that's important to me."
Iorio, whose mayoral term ends in March 2011, stressed that she's just gathering information at this point. But she acknowledged that part of the calculation is that no major candidate has emerged from the Tampa Bay region, home to nearly a quarter of the statewide electorate and typically the ideal home base for a statewide candidate.
State Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, formally announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination Tuesday, joining U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who had announced earlier this month.
"This is the time for people who care deeply about public service like me to stand up and fight for those principles you care about," said Gelber, 48, a former federal prosecutor and former U.S. Senate senior staffer who investigated weapons of mass destruction.
The open race to succeed Martinez is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable Florida has seen in years, with no heavy favorites on either side. Democratic U.S. Reps. Allen Boyd of Monticello and Ron Klein of Boca Raton also are considering running, while the potential Republican field includes Attorney General Bill McCollum, U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers and former state House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami.
Iorio said she hadn't given any thought to running until fellow Hillsborough Democrat Alex Sink, Florida's chief financial officer, took herself out of the race. In an interview, the mayor sounded more like someone mulling the prospect than one poised to announce.
She would not have to resign her post to run for Senate, but if elected she would take office two months before her term as mayor ends. The City Council chairman, currently Tom Scott, would step in as mayor. Iorio said she had not given much thought to how she might balance serving as mayor and running for Senate.
"That takes it to a whole other level of discussion that I haven't gotten to yet," she said.
Iorio would face some steep challenges. She has been in elective office since 1985, including as a county commissioner and elections supervisor, but is little known outside Tampa Bay. She has no statewide network of political or financial supporters, and unlike most statewide candidates has long steered clear of partisan campaigning.
Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis, a longtime friend of Iorio's, said she would have plenty of time to build that network of support.
"She is a very strong mayor and a strong leader, and she would have lots of appeal if she decides to run," Davis said.
Gelber also is largely unknown outside his district, but the son of a former Miami Beach mayor is widely viewed as one of the shrewdest Democrats in the Legislature. As former state House Democratic leader, he has political contacts across the state.
President Obama's Florida campaign manager, Steve Schale, is leading Gelber's campaign. And allies say Gelber's background as a federal prosecutor and counterterrorism expert makes him an especially appealing candidate. Joining him at his campaign announcement Tuesday were two Republican former U.S. attorneys — Marcos Jimenez and Robert Martinez, a confidante of Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.
"There are a lot of Obama people that are going to help him because he was helpful to Obama," said Tallahassee lawyer Allan Katz, a top Obama fundraiser who is uncommitted in the Senate race. "I think that there are a lot of people out there who are going to look at Dan and say this is an opportunity for Florida to have someone who has a lot of vision, is a smart guy, knows how to get things done."
Times staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8241.