Lunchtime at Tampa's of-the-moment Oxford Exchange, and over ice tea, that trendy chick pea appetizer everybody orders and the chili because it's so unFlorida cold out, Alex Sink is sounding a lot like a candidate.
Or maybe she's just sounding like a lot of Floridians lately.
I am asking about Republican Gov. Rick Scott, the millionaire hospital executive who defeated her for the job of running this state by an eyelash in 2010 and went on to become arguably the least-liked governor in America. She hasn't said too much during Scott's semi-disastrous first term, but, well, I did ask.
A narrow agenda. A newcomer who does not get us. A businessman who had trouble transitioning to statesman.
"He's not won the hearts of Floridians," says Sink, 64, Florida's former chief financial officer. "He doesn't know how to talk to us."
She has one of those light Southern voices with a center of steel running through it. "I'm sorry for Florida, because in any race somebody wins and somebody loses, and I was the loser," she says. "He's my governor, too. I wanted him to be successful and do well."
So, The Question, the one she gets asked only about a dozen times a day: Will she run against Scott again in 2014?
Only three months have passed since the death of her husband of 26 years, Bill McBride, a former gubernatorial hopeful himself, during a family Christmas gathering in North Carolina. So it should be a delicate, even improper thing to ask her — except there is nothing delicate in politics.
They all want to know: friends, fellow Democrats, reporters and strangers, the airport baggage handler who pulled her aside as she was catching a plane one night, the parking attendant when she drove up to pay her 10 bucks at a Yankees spring training game.
And the answer is: It is too soon to answer, to decide something this big. There is the sacrifice of family to political commitment and the kind of money that must be raised. There is the loss of a husband.
These days she divides her time between being "gainfully employed" (as she puts it) in investment banking and also working at her "passion," a nonprofit that encourages small-business entrepreneurs and explores ways to rebuild the state's economy. She talks about an economic base beyond tourists and retirees and about ways to keep the brightest "young folks" from taking their talents elsewhere. She is still sorting through piles of letters she has gotten about kindnesses committed by her husband, sometimes in ways she never knew. She is very busy. "Bill would want me to stay busy," she says.
I ask about the most intriguing rumored candidate thus far, the recently flipped Charlie Crist.
"He's a very new Democrat," she says. "At this point in time there's a lot of skepticism."
And what about rumors that Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson could run?
She surprises me by saying she thinks he should seriously consider it. "I think he shares the values of mainstream Floridians — he shares my values," she says. And: "I wouldn't run against him."
She talks more about the state of our state, that economic base and the environment and public education. And you think, okay, it's too soon. But Alex Sink is thinking about it, or she is at least thinking about Florida.