Daniel Ruth

Smith finds few stars in Democratic skies

Consider that you are Rod Smith, the newly minted chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, an unenviable task somewhat akin to being given the reins managing the careers of Mel Gibson, Lindsay Lohan and Amy Winehouse.

In theory you would think this job would be a no-brainer. After all, Smith has been handed the gift that keeps on giving: Rick Scott, a governor whose decisionmaking style seems to rely on consulting his astrological chart, Dr. Laura and the entrails of a mullet.

Over the course of just few short weeks in office, Scott has managed to offend legions of people for his indifference, his isolation, his haughtiness and a fundamental misunderstanding of how bureaucracy functions that makes a former Enron executive look like the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

And those are just his fellow Republicans.

When your own party is beginning to grumble that the hair-challenged Ronald Reagan they thought they hired turned out to be the Grinch of high-speed rail, Democrats like Rod Smith should be counting the moments until 2014.

But as Smith gazes across the horizon of likely Democratic superstars with the political heft to take on Scott, the landscape begins to look bleaker than the dark side of Rush Limbaugh. As a matter of bench strength, Florida Democrats are the Washington Generals, the Iraqi air force and Weekend at Bernie's II.

What to do? For starters, Smith could persuade Bill Clinton to move to Florida. And then there's always the nominal Democrat Dick Greco, who would only be 143 years old by 2014. This option is not entirely facetious, especially to Greco.

Rather, for Smith, the deductive process to find a viable opponent for Scott begins to feel like culling the list of suspects in an Agatha Christie mystery.

There are U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, two sharp rising stars in the U.S. House's Democratic leadership. Why would either be crazy enough to give up safe seats to go toe-to-toe with the Nosferatu of Tallahassee?

Check off those possibilities.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer might be an option. Dyer has served in the Florida Senate and understands the legislative process. But Dyer has announced he plans for run for another term as mayor.

Then there is Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, in some respects both an obvious gubernatorial candidate and at the same time not so much.

On the plus side for Iorio, she is about to leave office and will have plenty of time on her hands. She departs the mayor's job with high approval ratings after presiding over a city during dire economic times.

And she's royally annoyed with Scott's decision to scuttle the near- and dear-to-her high-speed rail proposal that would have infused $2.4 billion into the I-4 corridor and created up to 24,000 jobs.

No one disputes Iorio's knowledge of government, or her managerial temperament. On the face of it, the soon-to-be former mayor would certainly loom high on any list of possible state-wide candidates.

Except, at least up until now, hardly anyone has paid any attention to her.

Iorio and the Democratic Party have always had an odd relationship, treating each other as distant cousins one has to occasionally put up with at family reunions.

While Dyer is the consummate back-slapping pol, the more reserved Iorio rarely has been courted by her own party, even though she is one of the relatively few elected Democratic office holders in the state who has enjoyed bipartisan support.

Three-plus years may seem like an awfully long time until the next election. Or it would be if the Democrats had a stable of high-profile, gung-ho figures positioning themselves for future consideration.

But Smith is not blessed with a multitude of candidates. He's also not blessed with much time.

Since "Ask Gary" has more name recognition around the state than most potentially viable Democratic candidates, Smith needs to act pretty quickly to identify a 2014 gubernatorial hopeful who can begin to work the rubber chicken/grip-and-grin circuit around the state to boost his or her profile.

Raising Lawton Chiles from the dead would appear problematic. Pity.

An argument could be made that since Scott has essentially confused the governorship with papal infallibility that it's possible he just might be a pinch vulnerable come re-election time. Perhaps.

But a candidate is only as vulnerable as the opponent he or she faces.

At this point, given the vapor trail of potential opponents, Rick Scott could probably sell off the Florida Keys to Cuba and not have to worry too much about losing a second term.

Smith finds few stars in Democratic skies 02/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, February 28, 2011 6:58pm]

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