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Deja vu: Predictions that Fla GOP chair could lose reelection

Published Jan. 9, 2015

Back in 2007, many plugged in Republican activists predicted to us that newly elected Gov. Charlie Crist's choice for state party chairman, Jim Greer, would lose the election in a grass roots revolt. Greer beat former state chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan by an uncomfortably close 102 -89. Despite renewed predictions of an upset in 2009, the controversial Greer was reelected chairman with more than 75 percent of the vote.

A year later, after Greer's ouster, local activists complained about arrogant elected Republicans anointing then-state Sen. John Thrasher as Greer's replacement and predicted he would lose. Thrasher beat National Committeewoman Sharon Day 135-85.

Then in 2011, county GOP leaders grumbled when Tallahassee's establishment crowd mostly united behind former legislator Dave Bitner for chairman. The kfetching didn't stop Bitner from winning easily,pulling 109 votes in the first round of voting, following by 58 for Hillsborough Chairwoman Deborah Cox-Roush, 37 for Sarasota Republican chairman Joe Gruters, 16 for Palm Beach county chairman Sid Dinerstein, and seven for Pinellas state committeeman Tony DiMatteo.

Now in 2015, we're hearing a lot of chatter from local GOP activists that Gov. Rick Scott is poised for a major embarassment next week when his hand-picked state party leader, Current Florida Republican chairwoman Leslie Dougher, is poised to lose her re-election bid.

You can forgive us our skepticism, giving the track record of elections for state GOP chairman. An upset certainly is possible, but in practice the establishment candidate always wins these races.

Scott has been calling voting members of the executive committee urging their support of Dougher, who also has the backing of Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, which means a big block of votes all but ensured for Dougher.

Her challengers include state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, former state Rep. Curt Kelly, and Martin County's Eric Miller, and we've heard assorted predictions that either Kelly or Ingoglia are in position to unseat Dougher.

Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, is the party's vice chairman who strikes us as the most interesting candidate if for no other reason than he's a sitting legislator with plenty to lose by bucking the governor and legislative leadership.

"We think we're in an extremely strong position, and we're trying to win this thing on the first ballot," Ingoglia said, brushing off the suggestion that by bucking his party leaders he could be endangering his own legislative agenda.

"The things we're going to do and attempt to do as a legislator, what we've always been advocating, are pro-business, job creation, getting government out of the way," he said. "Those are all things the governor and the legislature have been advocating as well."

His main goals as chairman, Ingoglia says, are to ramp up grass roots organizing, technological expertise, and digital marketing, to ensure the 2016 Republican presidential nominee wins Florida, unlike in 2008 and 2012.

Dougher is widely seen as a caretaker chairwoman who defers mainly to the governor and the state party's executive director. That she has only rolled out about 50 endorsements as the governor's candidate does suggest she could be in trouble in a second round of balloting next Saturday in Orlando, but history is very much on her side.