WEST PALM BEACH — Democrat Alex Sink's first opportunity to showcase running mate Rod Smith was both a cheerleading session for the party ticket and target practice on the bickering Republicans.
Appearing Thursday for the first time since she announced Smith would be her lieutenant governor choice, Sink criticized her potential opponents — Republicans Bill McCollum and Rick Scott — for "bickering" and "personal attacks."
"I'm fed up with the lack of leadership, partisanship and absence of direction," said Sink, echoing a television ad she has been running since Sunday.
Sink told a roomful of loyal Democrats at a brief event at the Palm Beach Police Benevolent Association Hall in West Palm Beach that given the challenges that face Florida, "There is no time for partisanship, special interests or personal agendas."
Smith, a former Gainesville state senator and former Alachua County state attorney, gave the more fiery and colorful speech. He joked about how his oldest son was busy explaining to judges why his father wouldn't be in the courthouse for the next few weeks or months — which prompted Sink to interrupt with "years."
Smith talked about his youth in Palm Beach County. He attended an elementary school in Boynton Beach that has since been turned into a museum. He said his father and uncles farmed the land, and he worked on a farm while attending junior college.
Smith lost the 2006 primary for governor to Jim Davis, who ultimately lost to Charlie Crist.
"I will never forget the last time I had a chance to run — this county embraced me," Smith said, a reference to his victory over Davis in that county. "I want Palm Beach County to be ground zero" of this campaign, he said.
Smith talked up the need to improve the economy and grow jobs in Florida and vowed to work in the lieutenant governor's job full time.
Several Democratic politicians praised Sink's choice of Smith.
Said former Attorney General Bob Butterworth: "I cannot think of a better person in the state of Florida. He knows the state."
State Rep. Joe Gibbons of Hallandale Beach said he worked on Smith's campaign for governor. He said his only concern is Smith's work as a trial lawyer. But he thinks Sink's business background will balance the ticket.
The campaign also touted an endorsement from Davis, a former U.S. representative from Tampa. Davis told the Times/Herald that Sink's pick of Smith was a good choice and predicted that Sink has a much better shot at the Governor's Mansion than he did, especially given the GOP infighting this primary season.
"No one knows better than me what a good campaigner he is," Davis said of Smith. "He's just got a lot of energy and knows the state."
Sink's pick is considered safe and strategic — Smith has name recognition, statewide campaign experience and the ability to work with Republicans.
Times/Herald staff writer John Frank contributed to this report.