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Florida Governor Rick Scott is highly unpopular with voters, and polls show him losing his reelection race next year to any generic Democrat. But now that at least one Democratic challenger has emerged, it appears that the Democrats may already be shooting themselves in the foot. Case in point: The Florida Democratic Party denied Nan Rich, the only Democrat who's jumped into the race, a speaking slot at its annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner later this month.
"I think it’s inappropriate, given the amount of attention the governor’s race will draw," Rich told the Miami Herald. "I've been a candidate for a year. I've traveled the state and built a significant infrastructure and grassroots support. And I'm just asking for five minutes."
Party organizers claimed they didn't want big donors to get "bored by too many speeches" at the event, but the snub is largely viewed as an attempt to sideline Rich, a state senator, in favor of the party's preferred candidate, former Republican governor Charlie Crist. (Signs that Crist is seriously considering jumping into the Democratic primary: Most recently an independent, he officially switched party affiliation again in December after losing a Senate race to Sen. Marco Rubio. Then, in early May, he suddenly became a supporter of same-sex marriage, which he'd previously opposed.)
Florida Dems clearly see Crist as the stronger candidate, even if he is, well, a Republican. A recent poll showed Crist prevailing in a Democratic primary, with Rich receiving just 1 percent of the vote, and faring much better than Rich in a matchup with Scott. Still, polls suggest that Crist isn't exactly a shoe-in, with at least one showing him in a dead heat with Scott. And rank-and-file Democrats are understandably leery about jumping on the bandwagon with a candidate who has previously described himself as a "Jeb Bush Republican."
But Rich, a stalwart liberal Democrat known for her work on child welfare issues and sharp criticism of Scott, has had trouble raising money and her profile. She could have used the platform at the dinner to help boost her visibility. Instead, the state Democratic party decided it's more important to hear from the mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Meanwhile, the head of the state GOP, Lenny Curry, has seized the opportunity to taunt Florida Democrats for dissing one of their own. He started the hashtag #FreeNanRich and tweeted, "Are big donors really more important than 5 min for @SenatorNanRich?" He also sent out a press release targeted at the state's Democrats to let Rich on the podium, writing:
While Senator Rich and I might not see eye to eye politically, she has a long history of leadership in public service and deserves five minutes of speaking time as the only announced gubernatorial candidate in your party.
Because Senator Rich is an experienced spokesperson for Democratic ideology in Florida, it must be disappointing to see your Chairwoman, Allison Tant, put the interests of big-dollar donors ahead of a mere five minutes for Florida's leading champion of liberal causes.
The Rich snub promises the beginning of a bitter primary battle for the right to challenge Scott, who will certainly benefit from the distraction from his own record. Whether the Democratic primary fight will be enough to keep one of the nation's most loathed governors in office, though, is still very much an open question.