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Ranking Florida's most influential Democrats

We recently put an intriguing question to participants of the Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll, entirely uncertain whether a consensus would emerge: Who are the three most influential Democrats in Florida?

Given the overwhelming GOP dominance of state government — the governor's office, all three Cabinet posts and supermajorities in both legislative chambers — it sometimes seems questionable whether any influential Democrats are left in Florida. Indeed, plenty of our 113 bipartisan Insider respondents (mostly lobbyists, political professionals, fundraisers and political scientists) said they were stumped, or caustically named moderate Republican legislators who don't always toe the line of legislative leaders.

Still, a list emerged, including elected officials, top fundraisers and campaign consultants:

1. Sen. Bill Nelson — 38 votes. The two-term senator, 69, is an obvious choice as Florida's only statewide elected Democrat. (A few insiders also suggested Nelson's savvy chief of staff, Pete Mitchell.)

2. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — 36 votes. As chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, the South Florida congresswoman, 45, is another obvious choice. People might debate whether she's too liberal for a statewide campaign someday, but her focus appears to be on Washington anyway. Note that the top two picks are federal officials.

3. Rod Smith — 22 votes. The former prosecutor, state senator and gubernatorial candidate, 62, now chairs the Florida Democratic Party. Another statewide campaign is plausible.

4. Bob Graham — 21 votes. The former governor and senator, 75, remains a revered elder statesman and stays engaged in state political and policy matters.

5. Charlie Crist — 16 votes. Nope, the former Republican governor and unsuccessful independent Senate candidate, 55, isn't a registered Democrat. But in much of Florida his face and name are still prevalent on those Morgan & Morgan legal ads, and speculation is widespread that he could challenge Gov. Rick Scott as a Democrat in 2014.

6. Alex Sink — 12 votes. Not exactly a good sign that she came in below non-Democrat Crist, but the former chief financial officer and gubernatorial candidate, 63, barely lost in 2010 to Scott and is sending signals that she intends to run again. If so, a primary seems certain.

7 (Tie). Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, 53, another prospective candidate for governor; John Morgan, the personal injury lawyer, Democratic fundraiser and boss of Crist; Steve Schale, the Tallahassee-based Democratic strategist who led Barack Obama's Florida campaign in 2008.

8 (Tie). South Florida Democratic fundraisers Mitchell Berger, Chris Korge and Kirk Wagar; former state legislator and attorney general candidate Dan Gelber; state Rep. Scott Randolph of Orlando.

Others receiving several votes: former state senator and attorney general candidate Dave Aronberg; Ashley Walker, head of Obama's Florida 2012 campaign; Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown; Democratic strategist Screven Watson; Democratic fundraiser Allan Katz of Tallahassee, now U.S. ambassador to Portugal.

Biden visiting St. Pete

Vice President Joe Biden will headline a fundraising reception at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg on Wednesday afternoon. A $2,500 donation gets you on the host committee, $1,000 gets you in the photo line reception, $500 gets you front row seats and $100 gets you in the door.

Go easy on us, please

Florida GOP chairman Lenny Curry says he is trying to minimize the punishments for Florida's delegation to the Republican National Convention in Tampa because the state violated the officially sanctioned primary schedule.

Curry says he is talking to Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus about softening penalties for Florida Republicans. In addition to cutting the delegation in half, RNC members plan to limit the Florida delegation's floor passes and keep delegation members out of prime hotels.

"Chairman Preibus understands the importance of Florida and winning the presidency," Curry said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "We are working behind the scenes. They're not happy with us, the RNC, but we're going to work together so that Florida Republicans have a great convention experience."

Coulter calls out Bush

Looks like conservative author Ann Coulter is not among those Republicans pining for a contested convention in Tampa that would prompt former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to step in as the nominee.

"Jeb Bush would be the worst of all candidates to run," she said last week on Fox News. "For one thing, we don't need another Bush. That would just be embarrassing to the Republican Party. But also he's more pro-amnesty for illegals than his brother was, more than Rick Perry was — and it certainly didn't help Rick Perry."

Winner of the week

State Sen. JD Alexander. While legislators struggled with a gaping budget deficit, $35 million made it into the transportation budget for part of the Heartland Parkway, which ultimately could improve access to rural land owned by the Senate budget chief. What a nice surprise.

Loser of the week

Rush Limbaugh. The conservative radio entertainer sure did his part to bolster Democratic talking points about a "war on women." The Palm Beach resident attacked a Georgetown University law student as a "slut" and "prostitute" for testifying in support of birth control coverage. He apologized Saturday.

Ranking Florida's most influential Democrats 03/03/12 [Last modified: Saturday, March 3, 2012 9:03pm]
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