Dems hold fierce rally in Tampa

08/30/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Things have taken an unexpected turn for the Republican Party in Florida. Party leaders are skittish about embracing Republican nominee for governor, Rick Scott. Scott did not attend a rally Wednesday morning that featured Marco Rubio and many other GOP candidates. Democrats may be taking advantage of the apparent rift by having unity rallies featuring all the party’s state heavyweights.

It’s not what you’d expect from a guy who wants to be the Florida’s next Agriculture Commissioner:

Scott Maddox was the first to speak at Saturday’s rally at the State Fairgrounds in Tampa. A diverse crowd of about 300 cheered him on as he touted Democratic values. Following Maddox were the likes of US Senator Bill Nelson and Senate hopeful Kendrick Meek. As one might expect, Maddox and his colleagues pointed to corruption in Tallahassee.

All three state cabinet positions are up for grabs. Maddox faces Republican US Representative Adam Putnam in the race for Agriculture Commissioner. Meanwhile, former state representative Loranne Ausley faces Senate President Jeff Atwater in her bid for Chief Financial Officer. It’s a state cabinet position currently held by gubernatorial hopeful Alex Sink and is comparable to the position of treasurer.

The best-known cabinet position is probably attorney general. An aggressive AG primary race took place between state senators Dave Aronberg and Dan Gelber. Gelber won by an 18-point margin and on Saturday Aronberg warmly promoted his former opponent.

The star of the show was Florida’s senior Senator Bill Nelson. Nelson is not running for office but he told the crowd he needs help in Washington. He cited a bill he called a “widely embraced” jobs package for small businesses. It includes a 30-billion dollar lending facility for small businesses.

Nelson then introduced US Representative Kendrick Meek as the one he hopes will join him in the Senate. Meek trails both GOP opponent Marco Rubio and independent Senate hopeful Charlie Crist in the polls. Democrats are now split between Meek and Crist, who appeals to many conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. In a fiery speech Saturday, Meek maintained that he’s the real Democrat in the race.

A narrative that emerged pitted slick political campaigns against ones waged at the grassroots level. Meek was the first statewide candidate in Florida to qualify for a ballot by petition instead of paying a hefty fee. He then beat mega-rich newcomer Jeff Greene in the primary despite Greene’s pricey ad campaign. Greene did not attend Saturday’s rally; he was reportedly in the Hamptons. Meek said working at the local level was crucial.

Democratic candidate for governor, Alex Sink, who headlined the event, maintained that message. The former bank executive was elected chief financial officer in 2006. She was the first Democrat to win statewide office in eight years. She told the crowd it’s little lonely in Tallahassee right now.

After the rally, Sink told WMNF she would accept an endorsement from Attorney General Bill McCollum, who lost the GOP nod to Rick Scott.

Despite the tea-party rhetoric that dominates mainstream politics, attendees were unequivocally upbeat. Brenda Williams wore a purple Service Employees International Union shirt. She said winning in November will take hard work in the next sixty-four days.

Time will tell whether they can harness that momentum enough to pull it off in November.

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