Thurman brought success to Florida Democrats, but was it enough?

It's the curse and the blessing of being in charge: You can take credit for the good, but you can also be blamed for the bad, regardless of whether you were responsible for either.

That's where state Democratic chairwoman Karen Thurman sits today, five weeks before the state party decides whether to give her another four-year term.

The former congresswoman from Dunnellon took the helm of the state party in 2005 as Democrats were reeling from huge losses in 2002 and 2004. She inherited a financial mess that included tax liens for unpaid payroll taxes. Since then, Florida Democrats have dramatically improved their voter files, won a presidential election, picked up three congressional seats and a state Cabinet seat, re-elected a U.S. senator, and gained 10 state House seats.

But they also suffered through a presidential primary debacle that led to a candidate boycott of Florida and had a weak showing in legislative races this year. Some prominent party leaders are questioning whether Thurman can capitalize on the enthusiasm and organization generated by President-elect Obama.

"When Barack Obama spends $40-million in Florida, and the state party can't figure out how to pick up a few seats in the Legislature, chances are they don't understand change," said Allan Katz, a Democratic National Committee member from Tallahassee and top Obama fundraiser. "Whoever's in there needs to be able to generate a lot of enthusiasm from people who raised a lot of money for Obama in Florida, and for a lot of us that will require a different chair."

Sen. Bill Nelson is backing Thurman's re-election, but the only other statewide elected Democrat, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, said Thursday she had not decided.

It's not clear whether a formidable challenger will emerge, however. Miami-Dade Democratic chairman Bret Berlin and Flagler County Democratic chairman Doug Courtney are seriously looking at running. Veteran Democratic fundraiser Mike Moskowitz, a Broward County state committee member, said he is waiting to see if a consensus candidate emerges.

"I cannot stand by and let us not have the best possible leadership," said Moskowitz, who argues the party needs both a strong fundraiser and political director concentrating on 2010.

Thurman brought success to Florida Democrats, but was it enough? 11/20/08 [Last modified: Sunday, November 23, 2008 5:00pm]

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