The winners and losers list of 2011 Florida politics

Over the past year we watched our governor learn that Tampa Bay is a region in Florida, the "Taj Mahal" courthouse fiasco end the judicial career of a GOP power broker-turned appeals court judge, and GOP activists overwhelmingly declare Herman Cain their top choice for president.

Florida Republican leaders snubbed the national party for the second presidential cycle in a row by setting a January presidential primary, while Democrats showed us, er, nothing. Are there any relevant Democrats left in Florida politics besides Bill Nelson?

Lots of options for the political winners and losers of 2011. But there can only be one winner of the year and one loser of the year. Here we are:

Winner of the year

Jeb Bush. Absence makes the heart grow fonder every day, especially when Republicans compare the former Florida governor to the current field of presidential contenders and his two successors as governor.

Loser of the year

Mike Haridopolos. The Florida Senate president presided over an embarrassingly ugly session finale where he looked positively weepy about getting rolled by the Florida House. Then, before admitting that he lied to reporters about approving a severance deal for ousted GOP chairman Jim Greer, Haridopolos had to quit his collapsing U.S. Senate campaign that risked permanently damaging his political brand amid publicity about sweetheart book deals and consulting contracts he never could explain reasonably.

Runnerup winners

Michael Long. The 20-year-old New College sophomore and member of the Board of Governors showed more backbone than most state leaders, calling out Florida Senate budget chief JD Alexander for threatening higher education if he didn't get his way in turning University of South Florida Polytechnic in Lakeland into the state's 12th university.

Alvin Brown. He began as a long-shot Democrat running for mayor of Jacksonville but put together a broad coalition of support to become the first African-American mayor of Florida's largest city and deal a big blow to tea party Republicans in the state. He finishes the year with strong approval ratings and looks like a future statewide contender.

Pam Bondi. Over the early opposition of Gov. Rick Scott, the attorney general and other allies of the prescription drug monitoring database managed finally to get it kicked off to thwart doctor-shopping and over-prescribing of pain meds in a state beset by the prescription drug crisis.

Mike Fasano and Paula Dockery. Shunned by fellow Republicans leading the Florida Senate, the Tampa Bay senators emerged as the highest-profile consumer advocates in Tallahassee.

David Bitner. The late GOP chairman brought a steady hand to a party beset by turmoil and continued building the party back up with energy and dignity as Lou Gehrig's disease took its toll on his body.

Presidency 5. Okay, so Cain's candidacy didn't pan out so well after Florida Republicans launched him to the top tier at the P5 straw poll. But the event still drew loads of national attention and reminded the country Florida politics are rarely predictable or dull.

Marco Rubio. Polls suggest he wouldn't necessarily deliver Florida to the GOP nominee, but Florida's junior senator remains a superstar after a year in office and Republicans' top choice for vice president.

Ellen Freidin. The Fair Districts reform initiative she led in 2010 is still standing after legal challenges and in the long term may prove to be one of the most significant developments in the modern history of Florida politics.

Runnerup losers

George LeMieux. Charlie Crist made his old campaign manager a somebody in Florida politics, but now on his own and struggling to escape Crist's shadow, LeMieux looks more and more like a nobody in Florida's GOP Senate primary.

Adam Hasner. The hyper-partisan former state House majority leader is trying to follow the Rubio playbook to the U.S. Senate, but after nearly a year of criss-crossing the state is struggling to break 2 percent in the polls.

Rod Smith. The state Democratic Party chairman seems not to have emerged from the undisclosed bunker Alex Sink stuck him in during their gubernatorial campaign. Virtually invisible, Smith has led the party while it took a drubbing in fundraising from the state GOP.

David Rivera. The Miami congressman beset by ethical and legal questions and investigations may not wind up charged with anything, but colleagues in Washington are keeping their distance and his fundraising is anemic.

Barack Obama. His support among independent voters dropped significantly in Florida in 2011, while the GOP-controlled Legislature enacted new restrictions on voting that could cost Obama in 2012. He has a lot of work to do to win Florida again.

Tim Pawlenty. The former Minnesota governor had a strong network of support in Florida, but pulled the plug on his campaign before seeing just how quickly fortunes would rise and fall in the GOP primary.

Rick Scott. He read his narrow victory as a mandate from a conservative Florida electorate, rather than part of a massive Republican wave that's unlikely to be around when it's re-election time. An image makeover that included banning ties from his wardrobe hasn't softened poll results showing him to be America's most unpopular governor. He starts 2012 with the danger that Florida's poor perceptions of him could be hardening.

The winners and losers list of 2011 Florida politics 12/31/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2011 6:37pm]

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