1. Opinion

Ruth: Democratic chances bankrupt in more ways than one

Published Aug. 22, 2013

This probably falls rather neatly under the category of: "What were you thinking?" Obviously not very much.

Did it not occur to Democrat Allie Braswell that if he threw his hat into the ring to challenge Republican incumbent Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater next year that having declared bankruptcy three times might just disqualify him in the eyes of voters from overseeing a $70 billion state budget?

Did the Oviedo Central Florida Urban League CEO never consider someone would look into his past?

In the end, Braswell hung in the ring for less time than Sonny Liston did against Muhammad Ali in their nanosecond 1965 rematch.

This would have been akin to a disbarred lawyer running for attorney general, or an agriculture commissioner candidate found to be using indentured servants on the family farm.

Voters sort of expect someone seeking an office dealing with the state's fiscal affairs to have their own financial house in order.

It also didn't say very much good about the savvy skills of the Democrats in vetting potential candidates when party chairwoman Allison Tant swooned that Braswell was "exactly the kind of leader we need in Tallahassee." In the immortal words of that brilliant political philosopher Texas Gov. Rick Perry, "Oooops."

Allie Braswell is probably a very fine man, who might well be an able candidate to run for another elected office that doesn't involve getting anywhere near a checkbook. But his quick entry and exit from the CFO race speaks to two problems candidates in general — and Democrats in particular — face as 2014 looms.

First, it is sometimes easy to forget just how big Florida is, both in terms of land mass and a growing, diverse population. Running from Panama City to Key West is a daunting, demanding and exhausting full-time exercise.

And that means it is virtually impossible — unless you are Rick Scott willing to spend $70 million of your own money to buy the Governor's Mansion — for a first-time candidate with far less money and less name recognition than Yeehaw Junction's dog catcher to gain much traction in the heart and soul of the body politic.

There are perfectly plausible reasons to run against an entrenched incumbent even if you have less chance of winning than the Academy of the Holy Names does against the New England Patriots. Veteran state legislator Charlie Crist ran an ill-fated 1998 race against Sen. Bob Graham, knowing he was going to his voting-booth doom.

But the campaign afforded Crist, then a Republican, the opportunity to boost his profile statewide, which enabled him to get elected education commissioner in 2000, attorney general in 2002 and governor in 2006. As for the future, we'll see.

But that wasn't the case here. This looks more like a telling commentary on a Democratic Party with the bench strength of the Afghanistan air force.

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At the moment, Tant and the rest of the Democratic brain trust are left with the prospect of recruiting Occupant, To Whom It May Concern and Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe to replace the fleeting Camelot that was the Braswell campaign.

Elsewhere on the Democrat roster of titans, Thaddeus Hamilton has filed to run against Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. As an independent four years ago, Hamilton rallied to capture 2 percent of the vote against Putnam. That wasn't a campaign. It was vespers.

Attorney General Pam Bondi might face a challenge from George Sheldon, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and a former assistant Florida attorney general under Bob Butterworth. Although an extremely able public servant, Sheldon has run twice unsuccessfully for statewide office. Good man. Good luck trying to supplant someone who has spent more time schmoozing on Fox News than burning the midnight oil over legal briefs.

That's not to say there aren't any number of credible Democratic candidates across the Florida hustings. It's simply that there seem to be precious few who are willing to spend the next year and a half running around the state on what is likely to be a fool's errand to succeed well-funded and well-known GOP incumbents.

They have likely figured it's better to wait until 2018, when there will be all manner of open seats. It also gives Allison Tant time to actually read some resumes.


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