When it comes to Florida Democrats dreaming of a U.S. Senate seat, it's Alex Sink's world. Most everybody else is just waiting for her utterance.
In the same way Jeb Bush froze the field of Republican contenders awaiting his decision on a Senate run, Florida's chief financial officer is casting her own shadow over the potentially crowded Democratic race. From Washingtonto Miami, Democrats are awaiting Sink's decision and speculating about whether her entry in the race would clear away any party rivals.
"I'm very seriously considering the race. It's an enormous opportunity to serve the people of Florida. ... I have a few more people I'd like to have the opportunity to speak to about it," Sink said Wednesday, the day after former Gov. Bush bowed out.
Sink, 60, said she is focused on the special session on the budget deficit at the moment, and will likely make an announcement after a few more meetings in Washington during Barack Obama's inauguration events later this month.
"Open seats like this don't come around very often," said the former bank executive, noting that other prospective candidates have inquired about her leanings and that Bush's announcement did not influence her. "I was not really focused on his decision at all. For me, it's how I can best serve the state, and of course family considerations."
Sink, who rules out running for governor in 2010 but not running for another term as CFO, remains among the biggest question marks for other prominent Democrats eyeing the rare open Senate seat. Those include U.S. Reps. Allen Boyd of Monticello, Ron Klein of Boca Raton and Kendrick Meek of Tallahassee, as well as state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.
The national Democratic Party is aggressively courting Sink to run for the seat Republican incumbent Mel Martinez will vacate in two years, and she is widely viewed as the strongest statewide candidate.
"She does hold a special place in many Democrats' hearts around the state in the job that she's done and the strength of her statewide election," said state Democratic chairwoman Karen Thurman.
But Thurman also touted other candidates and expressed optimism that a rancorous primary can be avoided.
"If Alex gives some kind of indication one way or another that she's going to run, it probably has a dampening effect on the field," said Democratic strategist Steve Schale, who is close to Gelber. "But the longer this plays out, the likelihood of seeing other Democrats getting in significantly increases."
Not everyone is cowed by the prospect of a favorite.
"My time line is not based on CFO Sink or anyone else that has expressed an interest," said Meek, who has been talking to party activists throughout the state about a potential run.
"I'm talking to everyone that's said they're interested because I don't want to see a situation where the entire Democratic bench is in the same race for the same office," Meek said. "But in the end, if I do decide to do this and you have a crowded primary, that's just the way the field will be."
A big part of Sink's advantage is that she is the only Democrat in the mix who has run statewide already, and she has proved her ability to win over swing voters.
In 2006, Sink beat Republican Tom Lee by 7 percentage points, about the same margin that Republican Gov. Charlie Crist won his race that year. A businesswoman with a North Carolina twang, she performed especially well in conservative North Florida.
Times staff writer Wes Allison contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8241.