MIAMI — Charlie Crist on Thursday tapped Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairwoman Annette Taddeo-Goldstein to become his running mate for governor, adding a South Florida Hispanic face to the former Republican's ticket.
"She's a remarkable woman and a classic American success story," Crist said. "She truly is an American dream come true."
Taddeo-Goldstein, 47, is also a demographic dream for Crist's campaign. The Colombian-American businesswoman is a party insider, a married mother of one and the owner of a small business, LanguageSpeak, that provides translation services.
Crist consultants and supporters see her as a needed spark to reignite a campaign that has lost its edge in the polls amid a $15 million, four-month TV ad blitz from Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Scott now holds an inside-the-error margin lead over Crist by about a percentage point or two in recent polls.
Crist, who announced his first paid TV ad last week, hasn't been able to compete on air with Scott, an independently wealthy incumbent able to raise and spend more. Overall, Scott has spent $20 million since November, when Crist jumped in the race. Crist has spent $3 million. Scott had an $8.5 million advantage in cash on hand at the beginning of July.
That's where Taddeo-Goldstein and the announcement of her selection comes in. She provides free coverage in a major media market at a time when Crist wants to remain in the news without having to pay for it.
Candidates typically announce their running mates after winning a contested primary, but Crist supporters said he couldn't wait until after the Aug. 26 primary against longtime Democrat Nan Rich.
Taddeo-Goldstein said she respects and likes Rich, but she said joining the Crist ticket is the best way to beat Scott.
"After $20 million being spent against Charlie Crist, it's pretty obvious who Rick Scott does not want to be up against," she said.
In her prepared remarks, Taddeo-Goldstein focused more on her background.
"As a working mom, a small business owner and a Floridian, I am proud to serve this state that has given me so many opportunities," she said Thursday morning. "Unfortunately, too many people across Florida are feeling left out and behind."
Scott raises the same issue about Crist — the economy during the former governor's tenure led to high unemployment and record home foreclosures. Scott's running mate, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, seldom misses a chance to drive the message home. Now, Crist has his own running mate to rebut him.
Lopez-Cantera, who's Cuban-American, is also from Miami-Dade, ensuring that the state's next lieutenant governor will be a Hispanic from the state's largest county.
Praised by most Democrats, the pick of Taddeo-Goldstein was panned by a few.
"I think that he's pandering," said Barbara Walters, the county party's programming vice chairwoman and a supporter of Rich. "They all do it, but I think this was obvious pandering. I think he could have made a better choice."
Others knocked Taddeo-Goldstein for having lost two elections in Miami-Dade: a 2008 race against Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and a County Commission contest two years later. Taddeo-Goldstein has always campaigned as Annette Taddeo, which is how the Crist campaign refers to her in its press releases.
Regardless of whether her name is hyphenated or not, Taddeo-Goldstein checks numerous boxes for Crist:
• Democratic insider. Though she'll have to step down as county party chair, Taddeo-Goldstein is a longtime Democrat in good standing who bolsters the party bonafides of Crist, a Republican and then an independent before becoming a Democrat. She's credited by many for prodigious fundraising and effective organizing, which had been lacking in recent years.
• Hispanic. The former host of a CNN Latino show called Taddeo 2day, Taddeo-Goldstein is a recognizable face on Spanish-language media and could help with outreach to the fastest-growing major segment of the electorate. Hispanics, about 14 percent of the Florida electorate, have been trending more and more Democratic in recent elections. But compared with non-Hispanic white and black voters, Hispanics are the least likely to vote during a governor's race. And those who do tend more to be Republicans who are of Cuban descent.
• South Florida-based. Crist's campaign hopes Taddeo-Goldstein, with her knowledge and political ties in South Florida, can help the party boost overall turnout. A Democratic bastion, South Florida's three major urban counties spell life or death for the party in statewide races. Had voter turnout in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach been at just the statewide average — instead of below it — the party's 2010 candidate for governor, Alex Sink, would probably have won by 250,000 votes statewide instead of losing by 61,550 votes.
• Female. In election after election, women voters have trended more toward Democrats. And, Crist advisers hope, Taddeo-Goldstein's selection will help Crist continue his outreach to this crucial segment of the party's electorate, particularly single women.
"She connects with me as a female," said Elizabeth Vega Patino, a Miami attorney who, along with husband Ralph Patino, is a major Democratic donor.
"She's not afraid to take risks, she's not afraid to speak her mind, and she still maintains her sense of self," said Patino, a Cuban-American Miami native. "I see someone who's hard working, a small business owner. And she connects with the Hispanic community."
The first major Democrat to call for Taddeo-Goldstein on the ticket was Henry Crespo Sr., the president of the Democratic Black Caucus of Florida.
"She always supported me, helped us raise money because she's inclusive," Crespo said. "We just now have to bring the whole black community online."
Crist and Taddeo-Goldstein later Thursday planned to visit the campaign's field office in Liberty City, a heavily African-American area of Miami.
Asked about Taddeo-Goldstein's ethnicity, and his struggles in attracting Hispanic votes in Miami-Dade, Crist said her selection "certainly won't hurt. It's nice that she's fluent [in Spanish]." But, Crist said, "it's not for some particular demographic, it's for all the people of Florida."
Crist had hoped to dominate the news cycle by announcing Taddeo-Goldstein in July. But the news was soon swamped by a Florida Keys' court ruling striking down the state's gay marriage ban, the shootdown of a Malaysian Air jetliner near Ukraine and Israel's ground assault in Gaza.
Asked about the unorthodox timing of the announcement, Crist smiled.
"It is unorthodox," he said. "This whole thing's unorthodox, isn't it?"
Times/Herald staff writers Patricia Mazzei and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.