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Bob Buckhorn or Shevrin Jones for Gwen Graham’s lieutenant governor?

Call me a homer for Tampa Bay, but Buckhorn would be her best choice
ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times
Mayor Bob Buckhorn is seen during a hard hat tour for members of the media at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.
ALESSANDRA DA PRA | Times Mayor Bob Buckhorn is seen during a hard hat tour for members of the media at Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park on Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.
Published Aug. 13, 2018
Updated Aug. 13, 2018

Gwen Graham should pick Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn as her nominee for lieutenant governor.

If the former Tallahassee Congresswoman and frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatoral wins on Aug. 28 — not at all a sure thing with billionaire Jeff Greene spending millions attacking her — Buckhorn is among several good running mate options for Graham.

He's also the best choice, both politically and for helping her govern should she became the first Democratic gov governor in two decades.

Skeptics I've spoken with in  Democratic Party roll their eyes at the thought of another centrist white guy from Tampa Bay at the top of the ticket. Didn't work out so well with  Democratic nomninees Bill McBride, Jim Davis, Alex Sink, and Charlie Crist.

Several leaned ino the conventional wisdom says the nominee should pick someone most likely to energize the base and, especially, to ensure a diverse ticket that looks like Florida.

Another excellent option for Graham said to be under serious consideration, like Buckhorn, is state Rep. Shevrin Jones, a widely respected and liked Broward County Democrat, who is African-American.

Four points:

First, no one votes for governor based on the lieutenant governor nominee. The running mate's main role in the campaign is to travel the state making speeches and courting voters to supplement the top dog's campaign schedule and, ideally, to help raise money.

The pick has much greater potential to hurt the nominee than help. The primary winner has just one week to name their lieutenant governor and then just nine weeks before election day. If that nominee has significant baggage and red flags — say the FBI investigation into Tallahassee City Hall that has loomed over the Andrew Gillum gubernatorial campaign, or even stormwater runoff pollution that has dogged St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman – the nominee could spend the first two weeks of the general election  defending their running mate.

Second, Democrats can't afford to keep downplaying the importance of white voters. Democrats absolutely need to mobilize African-American and Hispanic voters that make up their winning coalition of voters, but they can't afford to see their share of the white vote shrink.   If Crist had won 38 percent of the white vote in 2014 instead of 37 percent, Rick Scott would have been a one-termer.

Given the President Trump's particularly low approval ratings  with independent voters, and the main Republican candidates fully embracing him, Democrats have an opportunity to win over more swing voters.

Buckhorn would be a reasuring presence to middle of the road voters disenchanted with today's GOP but also skeptical about Democrats. A pro-business progressive, Buckhorn has a track recod of working well with Republicans, a great story to tell in the renaissance of Tampa, and a track record of competence.

Graham could double down on her message of common sense, consensus bulding with Buckhorn on the ticket, much as Al Gore bolster Bill Clinton's image as a young and new kind of Democrat.

Point three: Except maybe former Gov. Crist, Buckhorn is the highest profile in Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay accounts for one in four votes in a statewide election, and the candidate who wins Tampa Bay almost always wins Florida. Buckhorn is popular. A poll conducted recently by the Florida League of Cities found 76 percent of Tampa voters viewed the mayor favorably and only 12 percenrt unfavorably. Even among Republicans, 61 percent have a favorable view and 13 percent unfavorable.

Fourth and most important, Buckhorn has the proven track record to be a key partner to help Graham govern. He would bring executive governing experience that a state legislator would not.

Buckhorn, who would have to step down as mayor before his term ends in May, has not endorsed anyone in the Democratic primary, and he surely would not consider the job unless he had the assurance he would play a big role in the administration – a lieutenant governor more like Buddy MacKay or Frank Brogan than Jeff Kottkamp or Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Plenty of other strong potential Democrats are drawing speculation, including State Attorney Dave Aronberg of Palm Beach County, state Rep. Amy Mercado of the Orlando, Kriseman, gubernatorial candidate Chris King of Winter Park, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, and Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.

A year ago Sen. Oscar Braynon Miami Gardens would have been on any Democratic nominee's short list. But his adultery with state Sen Anitere Flores, R-Miami Beach probably pushes that spirit of biparisanship too far.

Most of these are strong prospects. None offer as much as Buckhorn.