State Republican leaders may be working overtime to clear the gubernatorial field for Bill McCollum, but one energetic Republican state senator isn't ready to get on board.
"The Republican Party's in trouble now, and I've spent my entire adult life building up the party," said state Sen. Paula Dockery, who said she is seriously considering running for governor. "Republicans are going to have a tough time getting elected unless we show that we are the party of women and Hispanics and minorities, and we don't all have to fit into the same, small mind-set."
Dockery, 47, is also looking at running to succeed Adam Putnam in Congress, though Republican former state Rep. Dennis Ross has already raised $500,000 for that race. She said she only started considering a gubernatorial run a few days ago amid encouragement from people hailing her efforts to kill a controversial commuter rail project in the Orlando area.
"The people that are calling me and encouraging me to run are all over the board, from the far right to the far left," said Dockery. "I'm hearing more from Democrats trying to keep me out of the race."
Democrats have united behind Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink for governor, and Dockery allies think the Lakeland rancher and farmer would be a stronger candidate against Sink than McCollum would be.
But state party leaders are eager to avoid an expensive and divisive primary. State Republican chairman Jim Greer and legislative leaders have endorsed McCollum, who also has lined up many of the state's top Republican fundraisers.
Dockery said no one expected her to defeat the army of lobbyists pushing the commuter rail project, so long odds would not necessarily dissuade her. She also has considerable resources of her own as her husband, Lakeland businessman C.C. "Doc" Dockery, spent millions of dollars promoting a high-speed rail ballot initiative in 2000.
"I have no doubt the party would stick with McCollum and try to avoid a primary thinking it would hurt the party," said Dockery, who expects to make a decision in a few weeks. "I think giving people a choice would help the party."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8241.