With weak, or no, candidates, Democratic may face painful defeat

Published April 20, 2014

For two decades, it's been almost like a ritual after the votes are tallied in nonpresidential elections: Wounded activists and leaders wring their hands and bemoan how the Florida Democratic Party has sunk to its weakest position ever.

Well, forgive us for alarming you Florida Democrats, but if you think 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 were painful election cycles, consider how excruciating 2014 might be.

As things stand, Florida Democrats are pretty much betting the house on former life-long, self-described pro-gun, pro-life, Ronald Reagan Republican Charlie Crist winning back the Governor's Mansion. Imagine the Wednesday morning quarterbacking if Gov. Rick Scott beats Crist and wins a second term. His chances are roughly 50/50.

Meanwhile, it's hard to find any plugged-in Democrat suggesting they have a shot at winning a Cabinet office. Two credible candidates, George Sheldon and Perry Thurston, are spending their scarce resources in a primary to take on lavishly funded Attorney General Pam Bondi, while no serious Democrat has emerged to challenge Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

It's not that Florida Democrats lack a bench of strong statewide candidates. In 2014, they don't even have a stool.

Another hasty exit

Less than a week, after the Crist campaign announced that former Barack Obama campaign staffer Eric Conrad would be its communications director, Conrad left the campaign "to pursue other opportunities," said Tallahassee-based consultant Kevin Cate.

This is the same campaign that earlier this year started introducing donors to its new campaign manager, Bill Hyers, who also disappeared hastily.

Latvala praises Scott

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is arguably the leading moderate Republican in Tallahassee, and at first blush, not the most likely candidate to be a top legislative ally of Gov. Rick Scott. But the maverick Pinellas legislator who never hesitated to butt heads with Gov. Jeb Bush has emerged as one of Scott's most vocal cheerleaders.

"He's done a lot for Pinellas County," said Latvala, also heaping praise on Scott's controversial chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth, in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.

The praise appears genuine, but it also happens to be a wise approach as veto season approaches.

"The governor has listened to me on some issues. He's moderating his position on some issues and frankly that's what government and politics are all about," Latvala said on the show airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. "People want to elect outsiders to government jobs, but they need to understand if you do that, there needs to be some on-the-job training. I think he's gotten that, and I think every day he's a better governor."

Important invitation

A lesbian couple from South Florida has been invited to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday with their son. Melanie and Vanessa Alenier are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida's ban on gay marriage.

"Melanie and I have worked so hard to build and protect our family, but nothing can come close to matching the protections that marriage provides," Vanessa Alenier said in a statement distributed by Equality Florida. "Our family is in need of those protections just like other families. We want our son to understand that his family is secure and just as respected as any other family part of our community here in Florida."

Illegal donations

A hotel magnate with ties to Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton pleaded guilty Thursday to funneling illegal donations to three candidates, including Kendrick Meek, the former Florida congressman who ran for Senate in 2010.

Sant Singh Chatwal admitted using straw donors to move $180,000 to the candidates (the others have been identified as Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut). Chatwal then reimbursed the donors.

A Justice Department news release said: "The evidence against Chatwal includes an October 2010 recorded conversation between Chatwal and a business associate who became an informant, in which Chatwal underscored his view as to the importance of political campaign contributions, stating that without campaign contributions, 'nobody will even talk to you. … That's the only way to buy them, get into the system. … What, what else is there? That's the only thing.' "

It also said there is "no allegation that the candidates participated in, or were aware of, Chatwal's scheme."

Alex Leary contributed to this week's Buzz.