Florida Republican party leaders gathered in Tampa on Saturday for their quarterly board meeting, and we heard a fair amount of chatter about a potential upset in the upcoming election of a new chairman of the state GOP.
Gov. Rick Scott picked the current chairwoman, Leslie Dougher of Clay County, six months ago to fill the remainder of the term of Lenny Curry after Curry stepped down to run for mayor of Jacksonville. Scott endorsed her for re-election last month, and you might think that would decide the matter. It didn't. Three other Republicans — newly elected state Rep. Blaise Ingolia of Spring Hill, former state Rep. Kurt Kelly of Ocala and Martin County Republican State Committeeman Eric Miller — stepped up to challenge Dougher. The election is next month.
Tensions between elected officials and local grass roots party leaders are common in both state parties. The locals never appreciate top-down decisions or leadership selections from the elected, and we heard several predictions from the activists gathered at Tampa's Grand Hyatt on Saturday that Ingolia would actually prevail. Call us skeptical, given past history and the block of votes controlled by the governor and legislative leaders.
"I love the governor, the governor has been great for the state of Florida," said Ingolia, who is vice chairman of the state party and was in line to be chairman before Scott anointed Dougher in the spring. "This isn't about anything other than making sure the party is doing the right thing, is going in the right direction for 2016."
Scott appeared at Saturday's meeting and thanked the activists for their work in the past election. He made a point of telling the gathering how much he appreciated Dougher for working hard, understanding the importance of grass roots politics and staying on message.
"Leslie, you did a great job, the governor said, adding that the party's work is just beginning again.
"We need more registered Republicans. We had 11,000 volunteers last time, we're going to need more," he said. "We can't wait until 2016 starts."
Dougher promised the most sophisticated voter turnout operation ever seen in Florida to beat "the Clinton machine" in 2016.
"You will have the resources you need," she said. "Our job is to win elections. Our job is to not get caught up in petty intra-party fighting that takes us off message or gets us into the blogs."
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who could be running for president, also revved up the crowd.
"Florida is going to be ground zero for the presidential election, it's going to be ground zero for keeping a Republican majority in the Senate, and to do that it's going to take a strong party," Rubio said. "I pledge to do anything and everything I can to help strengthen this party."
Check out former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford today on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. when he talks about what's next for him, the Legislature's controversial redistricting process, and his legislative legacy.