The race for chairman of the Florida Democratic Party got a lot more interesting Thursday when a leading Latino political group endorsed Tampa party activist Alan Clendenin.
Many party insiders consider Allison Tant, a top northwest Florida fundraiser for President Barack Obama, to be the favorite in the three person race. Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, the recently elected chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, is the third candidate.
Tant has been praised, though not officially endorsed, by two of the state's highest ranking Democrats -- U.S. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a close Obama ally and chairman of the national Democratic Party.
But Clendenin's endorsement by the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida could give his grassroots candidacy a boost.
"The Latino vote was very critical to Democrats' victory in Florida and any endorsement by Hispanic groups has to be taken seriously," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.
MacManus said the near-endorsements by Nelson and Wasserman-Schultz are powerful indicators the party's power brokers want Tant at the helm of the party as it prepares to battle Republican Rick Scott for the governorship in 2014.
Wasserman-Schultz and Taddeo-Goldstein are from South Florida, a bastion of Democratic voters without whose support Democrat candidates stand little chance in statewide elections.
"But on the other hand," MacManus said, "one of the concerns among Democrats in other parts of the state has been, in their minds, the disproportionate control of the state party by South Florida. So this should be interesting."
Clendenin, who said he's been campaigning actively for the state chairmanship for eight months, expressed confidence in his chances.
He framed his campaign as that of a "grassroots" bridge-builder challenging the candidate favored by the Democratic establishment -- a hierarchy that had little success electing party candidates in the decade and a half before the 2012 election.
"I firmly believe our Democratic future is about building a bench, getting people elected to city councils, county commissions and the school board," Clendenin said.
"We're never going to sustain a statewide Democratic electoral success if we are standing on the shoulders of a sea of Republicans. It's a failed model of running the Democratic Party from the top down."
Tant could not be reached for comment.
She was elected chair of the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee on Thursday night in an agreement that saw longtime party activist Jon Ausman step aside and accept the post of state committeeman.
The Obama campaign listed Tant as one of its major "bundlers" -- supporters who recruit large numbers of individual contributions.
Campaign finance watchdog groups credit her with raising at least $200,000 for Obama. Ausman told The Tampa Tribune that Tant probably raised about $330,000.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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