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Former lobbyist Allison Tant joins race to lead Florida Democratic Party

Two of Florida's most prominent Democrats, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, have recruited a new candidate to lead the state Democratic Party: Allison Tant, a top fundraiser in Tallahassee.

Tant joins Alan Clendenin of Tampa and Annette Taddeo-Goldstein of Miami-Dade in running to succeed Rod Smith. The election is Jan. 26, but Tant will have to be elected chair or state committeewoman of the Leon County party to qualify.

The 51-year-old former lobbyist and advocate for disabled Floridians told Buzz her priorities include strengthening the party's money-raising network as well as improving the party's branding as the voice of middle-class Floridians.

Tant is married to top trial lawyer Barry Richard, a lifelong Democrat best known for leading the Bush-Cheney Florida legal team during the 2000 recount battle.

"Allison has been a strong and active leader within the Democratic Party for years," said Jonathan Beeton, a spokesman for Rep. Wasserman Schultz. "The congresswoman has known Allison for more than 20 years and the entire party benefited from her tireless work in helping to win Florida and re-elect President (Barack) Obama."

And a spokesman for Nelson: "The energy and commitment she's brought to everything she does indicates she would make an excellent chair."

Lee's goal: GOP chair

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, may soon receive an additional title: chairman of the Hillsborough Republican Executive Committee. Lee is running for the GOP chair post to succeed Art Wood, who is stepping down. Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Chris Hart has talked about running, but given the longstanding East Hillsborough dominance of the local party, Lee looks like the heavy favorite.

"On Election Day we faced a Democratic Party whose engagement at the grass roots level was far better organized and implemented than in the past. Our efforts, although significant, were not as precise as they could have been. As a result, our local Republican Party was not as successful on Election Day as we have been in the past," Lee wrote in an email to GOP activists.

"We can try our past approaches and hope they will help us reach farther than before. Or, we can honor the leaders of our past, take the strong foundation we've built together and realize our local Republican Party's full potential."

Another hat in the ring

A third Democrat in the Florida House has declared his candidacy for the post of minority leader for the 2014-2016 cycle.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, entered the fray Thursday, joining Reps. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg and Mia Jones of Jacksonville. All three are in the running to succeed Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, after the 2014 election.

The choice will be made by a secret ballot by the 44 members of the House Democratic Caucus, more than half of whom (24) are freshmen who were just elected to the Legislature and barely know the candidates seeking to lead their caucus.

Rubio on their minds

Public Policy Polling last week released a poll finding that Sen. Marco Rubio is the Republicans' early top choice for the GOP presidential nominee in 2016.

Eighteen percent of Republicans want him as their nominee, 14 percent prefer New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, 12 percent Jeb Bush or Paul Ryan, 11 percent for Mike Huckabee, 8 percent for Condoleezza Rice, 7 percent each for Sarah Palin and Rand Paul, and 4 percent for Rick Santorum.

Among Democrats, 61 percent want Hillary Rodham Clinton and 12 percent Joe Biden.

In honor of LeMieux

A college's new public policy center is being named for former Sen. George LeMieux.

Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach announced the establishment of the LeMieux Center for Public Policy on Friday.

The center will host a lecture series and other programs giving students a chance to engage with politicians, journalists, authors and academics. It also will include an independent study program in which fellows will work directly with LeMieux on a research project.

Palm Beach Atlantic is a small Christian college. LeMieux served in the Senate for 16 months after being appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist to finish out the term of former Sen. Mel Martinez. His papers and other items from his time in Washington are also housed at PBAU.

Quote of the week

Abraham Lincoln only served one term in Congress, too." That's ousted U.S. Rep. Allen West in an NPR interview.

Steve Bousquet contributed to this week's Buzz, which includes information from the Associated Press. Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@tampabay,com.

Winner of the week

Signature Art Gallery. The Tallahassee art gallery finally will get paid more than $500,000 by the state for framed photos it completed for the opulent 1st District Court of Appeal. It wasn't the gallery's fault judges ordered up such pricey digs, but former CFO Alex Sink and current CFO Jeff Atwater balked at honoring the contract — until it looked like Atwater would be deposed.

Loser of the week

Hunting Deutsch. The fellow tapped by Gov. Rick Scott to be Florida's top job creator and oversee unemployment benefits quit abruptly last week amid questions about him collecting 91 weeks of unemployment benefits while traveling in Europe with his wife.

Former lobbyist Allison Tant joins race to lead Florida Democratic Party 12/08/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 8:07pm]
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