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  1. Florida Politics

2015's winners and losers in Florida state politics

Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during the September Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif. Rubio seeks to ease concerns from other politicians who aren’t clear on the Florida Senator’s stance on various issues. [Mark J. Terrill | Associated Press]
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during the September Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif. Rubio seeks to ease concerns from other politicians who aren’t clear on the Florida Senator’s stance on various issues. [Mark J. Terrill | Associated Press]
Published Dec. 27, 2015

It's time to pick our 2015 winner and loser of the year in Florida politics, a particularly easy task when it came to the latter.

Winner of the year

Marco Rubio. Florida's junior senator still has a long way to go to win the Republican presidential nomination, but a year ago most of the political intelligentsia assumed he would not even run because there was no way he could effectively compete against his old mentor. Just as Rubio ignored the conventional wisdom when he took on Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate in 2010, he did it again in 2015 and now stands among the top contenders, and the one most feared by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Loser of the year

Jeb Bush. One year ago, our former governor looked like the prohibitive front-runner to win the GOP nomination. His campaign team planned a "shock and awe" campaign to keep rivals at bay by jumping in early and raising so much money and locking up so many endorsements that most potential challengers would just give up. Turned out the shock was that Bush proved to be much less skilled at politics than many of us Floridians remembered. The awe was more, "Awwww, poor little Jeb Bush, being bullied and belittled day after day by Donald Trump."

Runners-up

Winner: State Rep. Richard Corcoran. The Pasco County Republican will become Florida House speaker in fall 2016 and was widely seen as the de facto House speaker in 2015 as he and Steve Crisafulli largely set the agenda in Tallahassee with an MIA governor and dysfunctional Florida Senate. Corcoran's Florida House blocked the Senate on Medicaid expansion and came off far less horribly on redistricting than the Senate.

Loser: U.S. Reps. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. Newly drawn congressional districts effectively killed Graham's and Jolly's ability to win re-election, while Webster is sniffing around for another district to run in.

Winner: David Jolly. A nobody lobbyist just three years ago, Jolly has risen to congressman and leading candidate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination.

Loser: Alan Grayson. The outspoken liberal from Orlando is giving up a fairly safe congressional seat to launch a U.S. Senate campaign that so far looks like a train wreck.

Loser: Republican Party of Florida. Gov. Rick Scott, not trusting chairman Blaise Ingoglia, won't raise money for the party. Neither will Republicans in the state Senate. Court fights exposed party operatives on redistricting and likely will result in more Democrats elected to Congress and the Legislature. The good news? At least the Florida GOP is better off than the Florida Democratic Party, which remains too irrelevant even to qualify for a loser of the year honor.

Winner: Rick Kriseman. St. Petersburg's mayor saw some tangible progress at last on some of the most intractable problems facing the city. The Pier no longer exists, and he has another ally on the City Council in dealing with the Rays stadium search.

Loser: Bob Buckhorn. Add the "bicycling while black" and police review board controversies to strained relationships with City Council members and tepid fundraising for his political committee. Throw in Graham, a rising Democratic star who may be looking for a new challenge, and Buckhorn no longer looks like a sure winner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2018.

Winner: U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis. The northeast Florida Republican running for the U.S. Senate locked up support from some key conservative political committees. And in this anti-establishment year, he faces two establishment Republicans, Jolly and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, and no heavyweight, in his U.S. Senate primary campaign.

Winner: Lenny Curry. The former GOP chairman managed to campaign successfully as a political outsider to unseat Jacksonville Mayor (and former Democratic star) Alvin Brown.

Winner: Joe Negron. The Republican state senator from Stuart finally claimed the Florida Senate presidency starting next fall, after state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, gave up his fight.

Sign up for our Daily Buzz newsletter at tampabay.com/enews. Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.

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