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Florida Republicans' 2014 prospects nervous about top of ticket

As the 2014 election cycle approaches, a lot of prospective Republican candidates are nervously watching Gov. Rick Scott's low poll numbers, knowing that their campaigns could well be dragged down — or lifted up — by the fellow at the top of the ticket.

Count Florida Senate President Don Gaetz among those worried about Scott's prospects.

"There is a growing concern among many people who run for office at the local level or the legislative level that we want to have a strong top of the ticket,'' Gaetz, R-Niceville, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9. "All of us are together on that ticket. We hope he does well, but I think it's going to be an uphill battle."

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, joined Gaetz for the extended Political Connections interview airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and declared himself bullish on Scott's re-election, given the improving economy.

Weatherford's staunch opposition to accepting billions of dollars in federal money to expand health insurance to low-income Floridians helped kill the prospects for any compromise. Scott, a formerly fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act, supported accepting the federal money, but has faced questions about how hard he pushed legislators on the issue.

"The governor never called me one time to ask me to expand Medicaid," Weatherford said.

Asked about Scott's engagement in the legislative process, Gaetz praised his chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, but said Scott preferred not to meet with the Senate president because such meetings would be open to the press.

"There were times when I wish we could have met but there apparently wasn't a desire on the part of the governor to have a public meeting," said Gaetz. "We knew where the governor was, but I would say he probably was less engaged than, say, a Jeb Bush was. When Jeb Bush was governor there was no hesitation and no question about where he stood and who was the leader."

Don't count Sink out

Don't dismiss the possibility that former chief financial officer Alex Sink will run for governor again. She made it sound unlikely after the death of her husband, Bill McBride, but we hear the Democrat has been talking to a lot of influential politicos lately.

Macks' marriage over

Former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack and his wife, Mary Bono Mack, are divorcing.

"We are saddened to announce that we have reached the difficult decision to end our marriage," they said in a statement. "We have nothing but respect and admiration for each other and we intend to remain on the friendliest of terms. We appreciate the love and support of our family and friends."

Both ran unsuccessful campaigns in November: Connie Mack vacating his southwest Florida congressional district to run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Bill Nelson, and Bono Mack losing re-election to her California seat to a Democrat. Both went on to join Washington lobbying firms. They were married in 2007 after dating for two years.

Reverse psychology

Great news for longshot Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich: The Florida GOP is attacking her.

Rich, a former state senator from Broward County, last week was endorsed by the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women, NOW. That prompted the Florida Republican Party to fire off a release blasting Rich as an "extreme liberal" who consistently opposed legislation to restrict abortions.

Rich presumably would love to forward the release to every Democratic primary voter.

Graham Cracker redux

Something we thought we'd never hear again: Bob Graham enthusiastically belting out his wonderfully horrible 1977 campaign song urging everybody to "be a Graham Cracker Backer." But there he was last week in Stacy Frank's South Tampa living room, daughter and congressional candidate Gwen Graham at his side along with Charlie Crist, singing away: "We've Got a Friend In Bob Graham! That's What Everybody's Sayin'!"

The occasion was a Tampa Bay fundraiser for Gwen Graham, 50, who is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City. It won't be easy taking on an incumbent in a district that Mitt Romney won by nearly 6 percentage points, but the younger Graham is a polished, energetic candidate campaigning on a promise to work across the aisle to find consensus.

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz. Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamsmithtimes.

Winner of the week

Sugar industry. U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio for the second year in a row voted to preserve the federal sugar quota system that ensures consumers pay higher prices for cereals, candies and other sugar products. No big surprise for Democrat Nelson, who last year received more than $71,000 in donations from the sugar industry, according to MapLight.org. But Rubio holds himself up as a committed free marketer against government picking winners and losers.

Winner of the week 2

Heritage Property and Casualty. Talk about government efficiency. Less than a week after unveiling the proposal, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. agreed to give the insurance company up to $52 million to take over about 60,000 Citizens policies. Heritage only opened nine months ago, and its business plan apparently included donating $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott's re-election and $30,000 to the Florida GOP.

Florida Republicans' 2014 prospects nervous about top of ticket 05/25/13 [Last modified: Monday, May 27, 2013 10:29am]

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