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Ex-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez joins Progress Energy board of directors

Thursday, March 4th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who left office last year before finishing out his first term, has joined the board of directors of the state’s second largest utility.

Martinez, 63, was elected to Raleigh, N.C.-based Progress Energy’s board earlier this month.

Progress Energy operates Progress Energy Florida, which provides power to nearly 2 million customers in the Tampa Bay area. State utility regulators recently turned down the utility’s $500 million rate hike request.

Not a bad part-time gig for Martinez. The annual pay for outside directors like him is $80,000 including $30,000 towards a deferred compensation plan, according to the company’s federal SEC filings.

Prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 2005, Martinez was the mayor of Orange County and was on the Orlando Utilities Commission. He’s been lobbying as a partner with the law firm DLA Piper since leaving office last year.

Martinez’s early retirement set off a political cascade in Florida and paved the way for Gov. Charlie Crist to take his place.

Crist appointed his own former chief of staff George LeMieux as a place-holder to fill in for Martinez until the November election. Crist is running in a GOP primary for the seat against former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Crist tells CNBC Florida population decline “not that big a deal”

Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist performed as the Sunshine State’s chief pitch-man, blowing off Florida’s historic population loss and touting the fine weather in a CNBC interview this morning.

Florida saw a drop of 58,000 residents last year, the first population decrease since military residents left the state after World War II.

“It’s not that big a deal, to be honest with you,” Crist shrugged off the decline on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” show today.

The governor then launched into a Sunshine State sales pitch, touting declines in property taxes and property insurance rates and the weather.

“And it’s Florida. It’s a beautiful place. It’s a gorgeous day today down here in South Florida. You just can’t beat the Sunshine State,” said Crist, who is in Miami. Florida I really think is on the rise and it’s a great deal for an awful lot of people, too.”

Although Florida’s unemployment rate is nearly 11 percent, Crist was upbeat about the job market and pointed to Palm Beach County as a shining example.

Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate was 11.7 percent in July, one percentage point above the state average.

“Even in the Palm Beach County area where Scripps and Torrey Pines and some of these other scientific institutes have located, Max Planck…it’s been great for that area of the state,” Crist said. “We’re very pleased with the direction things are going. We wish they were better, don’t misunderstand me. But we’re not sitting still. We’re on the move. And I continue to be optimistic and encouraged about where we’re going.”

Crist, who drew the wrath of fellow Republicans by urging Congress to pass President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, reversed that position on the health care reforms now being considered in Washington.


What they’re saying about LeMieux and Crist

Friday, August 28th, 2009 by Dara Kam



U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez:“I congratulate George LeMieux for being appointed by the governor to fill the remainder of my term. George is bright, capable, and an accomplished
administrator. My staff and I stand ready to ensure a smooth transition.”



Former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running against Crist in the GOP primary to replace Martinez: “This is a disappointing pick for Florida. George LeMieux is a talented political operative and the governor’s best friend, but that doesn’t make him the right choice to represent Florida in the Senate. Governor Crist had a wealth of consistent and principled conservative candidates to choose from, all of whom would have been a reliable check and balance on the excesses of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda.”

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate: “Governor Crist was afforded a high responsibility with this appointment. Instead, he treated this process like a mockery, politicizing his selection by flying around the state at taxpayers’ expense, touring major media markets and drawing this selection out. Well respected Floridians with a wealth of elected service experience from Congressman Clay Shaw to Mayor John Delaney to various Hispanic leaders were in a position to hit the ground running if appointed, but that possibility is now nonexistent.”

jimgreerRepublican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer: “Once again, Charlie Crist has demonstrated his commitment to serving Floridians, by appointing George LeMieux who is well qualified, a dedicated public servant, conservative Republican and an excellent choice!”

Progress Florida executive director Mark Ferrulo: “It’s shocking. We wonder why Gov. Crist didn’t just appoint himself if he was going to pick his former chief of staff and campaign ‘maestro’. “The so-called ‘People’s Governor’ has made clear through this appointment that he places personal loyalty and his own political benefit above the interests of Floridians.”



Attorney General Bill McCollum, a Republican running to replace Crist as governor: “I congratulate George LeMieux on his appointment as Florida’s U.S. Senator. I have known George for a long time, both as a friend and as a former Deputy Attorney General, a capacity in which he served this office
well. I wish him the best in serving the people of Florida in the U.S. Senate.”

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Hari Sevugan: “With Florida’s economy in shambles, Charlie Crist could have selected a Senator who would be able to hit the ground running in Washington to tackle the problems that face Floridians. In appointing a political crony as a placeholder until he can run for Senate himself, Charlie Crist is using the Governorship to advance his own political ambitions rather than advancing the lives of the Floridians he was elected to serve.”



U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler, a Democrat from Boca Raton: “In short, George LeMieux will make an excellent Senator. I wish him great success and look forward to working with him in any way I can.”

Republican operative and political consultant Mac Stipanovich: “He was not the obvious choice.”



Marion Hammer, former NRA president who now lobbies for the same organization and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida: “The NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida are very pleased with Governor Crist’s appointment of George LeMieux as Florida’s new junior U.S. Senator. George is rated ‘A’ by the NRA and will be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment in the U.S. Senate. Gun owners can count on George LeMieux to fight to protect freedom and the Second Amendment.”

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff: “This is just one more example of the Republican leadership in Tallahassee putting cronyism and corruption above the people of our state. From Ray Sansom, to former lobbyist Bill McCollum, to George LeMieux, it is clear that we must stand together and pledge to end the Republican culture of cronyism and corruption in Tallahassee.”



Former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, who was a finalist on Crist’s list of possible Martinez replacements and for whom LeMieux once worked as an intern: “George is a very, very capable guy and I’m sure he’ll do a good job. He’s a quick study, he’s articulate, he’s very close to the governor. I think it’s a good choice.”



State Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, active with LeMieux in Broward County GOP politics since the mid-1990s: “He’s a smart guy, politically savvy, a hard worker. There’s nothing negative to say about George….He’s certainly smart enough to wade through the issues.”



Kirk Fordham, head of the Everglades Foundation: “George LeMieux is the right pick for Florida. He has a deep understanding of a wide range of regional issues that are unique to Florida. When it comes to protecting the people’s water supply and restoring the Everglades, we couldn’t ask for a better ally than we’ll have in Senator George LeMieux.”

Crist adds 3 former Congressmen to ever-growing U.S. Senate list

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist added three more Florida politicians to his possible appointees to fill U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’ soon-to-be-vacated seat.

Former U.S. Reps. Mike Bilirakis, Lou Frey and Clay Shaw are now among the candidates Crist is considering, bringing his list to ten.

Shaw, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, served in Congress for more than 25 years. His district includes part of southern Palm Beach County.

Last week, Crist asked conservative favorite former House Speaker who later became a powerful state senator Daniel Webster to apply for the post. Crist is also considering former chief of staff George LeMieux, who ran Crist’s gubernatorial campaign and remains a close ally.

Crist said this weekend that he wants to fill the post by Sept. 8, the day when Congress reconvenes after a summer break.

Tomorrow, Crist will interview Shaw in South Florida, Bilirakis and former U.S. Rep. Bill Young in Tampa. He’ll also meet with Frey and former Florida Cabinet member Jim Smith, a Tallahassee lobbyist who served as both attorney general and secretary of state, in Tallahassee tomorrow, according to Crist spokeswoman Erin Isaac.

Crist, who is running in a GOP primary against former House Speaker Marco Rubio to replace Martinez, said previously “it is understood” that he’ll appoint someone who will not run against him next year.

Crist puts Dan Webster on list of U.S. Senate candidates

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 by Dara Kam

WebsterGov. Charlie Crist added former House Speaker Daniel Webster to the list of possible appointments to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez who announced his resignation earlier this month.

Webster is the seventh politician tapped by Crist to apply for the post, which he is leaving office after one term to pursue.

Webster served in the Florida legislature for two decades, winning election to the Florida House where he served as speaker from 1996-1998 before leaving for the state senate where he eventually became Majority Leader.

Webster, an engineer who owns a heating and air conditioning business in Orlando, is a favorite of conservative Republicans who have pressured Crist appoint him to fill Martinez’ seat. Webster actively supported Gov. Mike Huckabee in his presidential bid.

Crist has interviewed several candidates over the past several days:
- State Rep. Jennifer Carroll, R-Jacksonville, the legislature’s only black Republican;
- University of North Florida President John Delaney, Jacksonville’s former mayor and a long-time Crist supporter;
- Miami trial lawyer Bobby Martinez, who served as a U.S. Attorney, headed Crist’s transition team and was appointed to the state Board of Education by Gov. Jeb Bush and reappointed by Crist;
- George LeMieux, Crist’s former chief of staff who also managed his gubernatorial campaign and remains close to the governor.

He’s also considering at least two others:
- Jim Smith, a former Florida Cabinet member who served as both attorney general and secretary of state. Smith, who switched parties from Democrat to Republican, is now a top-tier Tallahassee lobbyist whose partner, Brian Ballard, is also his son-in-law and one of Crist’s chief advisors.
- Long-serving U.S. Rep. Bill Young, an Indian Shores Republican from Crist’s hometown of Pinellas County. Young is in his 20th term in Congress.

McCollum tops Sink for governor in latest Q-Poll

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum edged out Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, by 38-34 percent in the latest Quinnipiac University poll. Twenty percent of the state’s likely voters polled remain undecided.

That flip-flops Sink’s 38-34 percent lead among likely Florida voters two months ago. Sink remains relatively unknown to Floridians, according to the poll from Aug. 12-17 of 1,136 likely voters. Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they don’t know enough about her to have an opinion of her job performance.

McCollum and Sink are both leaving office after one term in pursuit of the governor’s mansion. Gov. Charlie Crist is also vacating after one term to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who stepped down before his first term in Washington is complete.

The poll also shows Crist with a healthy 55-26 percent lead over GOP primary opponent, former House Speaker Marco Rubio. In June, Crist held a 54-23 percent margin over Rubio.

Crist adds Bill Young, LeMieux to list of U.S. Senate hopefuls

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

youngGov. Charlie Crist is screening long-serving U.S. Rep. C.W. “Bill” Young and former chief of staff George LeMieux to fill U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’ seat. Martinez quit before his first term ends in 2012.

Crist, who is leaving office after one term to replace Martinez himself, spent yesterday and today interviewing possible candidates – including state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, UNF president John Delaney, former U.S. Attorney Bobby Martinez and LeMieux, a former deputy attorney general under Crist. They’re all Republicans who presumably have no interest in challenging Crist, who is running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio in a GOP primary, for the seat next year.

Also on the list: former state attorney general and secretary of state Jim Smith, now a Tallahassee lobbyist.

Young is in his 20th term in Congress and is from Indian Shores near Crist’s St. Petersburg hometown in Pinellas County.

Crist meets with LeMieux as he considers U.S. Senate pick

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Dara Kam

lemieux1Gov. Charlie Crist is meeting with former chief of staff George LeMieux today as he ponders his replacement for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez who resigned from office earlier this month.

The hastily-added meeting with LeMieux, a close ally who headed Crist’s gubernatorial campaigns and is now the chairman of the largest law firm in the state, raises speculation about whether the governor will tap LeMieux to fill in for Martinez for the remainder of his term.

Crist is seeking the office himself, running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio in a GOP primary next year.

Last week, Crist asked for applications for the temporary post from U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, former attorney general and secretary of state Jim Smith and former U.S. Atttorney Bobby Martinez. Diaz-Balart dropped out of consideration late Monday.

Crist met with Martinez yesterday before hurriedly asking state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, a Republican from Jacksonville and the only black Republican in the legislature, and University of North Florida President John Delaney. He visited with the Jacksonville pair in their hometown yesterday as well.

Crist adds two Jax officials to Martinez replacement list

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist added two names to the list of candidates he’s interviewing to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez: state Rep. Jennifer Carroll and University of North Florida President John Delaney, both of Jacksonville.

carrollCarroll is the only black Republican serving in the state legislature. delaney-2Delaney was formerly the mayor of Jacksonville and a long-time Crist supporter.

Crist plans to interview both tomorrow in Jacksonville. Neither was among possible candidates speculated on by political insiders around the state.

Crist today met with Bobby Martinez, a Miami lawyer who oversaw his transition when the governor took office in 2007 and a former U.S. prosecutor.

The governor, who is running in a GOP primary next year against former House Speaker Marco Rubio to take the seat himself, must appoint someone to fulfill the remainder of Martinez’ term, which ends in January 2012.

Crist also asked U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Jim Smith, a former state attorney general and secretary of state who is now a lobbyist, to apply for the post. Diaz-Balart pulled out yesterday and a visit with Smith has yet to be scheduled.

Crist U.S. Senate list not limited to Martinez and Smith

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to request more candidates to apply to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez after initially asking three GOP allies to apply.

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart withdrew his name from the list late last evening, the day before Crist is scheduled to meet with another Hispanic potential replacement, former U.S. prosecutor Bobby Martinez.

Crist will meet with Martinez at the Miami airport at 1 p.m. today.

Crist hasn’t scheduled an interview yet with former secretary of state and attorney general Jim Smith – now a Tallahassee lobbyist – the last of the three candidates the governor asked last week to apply for the job.

But he said today the “short list” isn’t limited to just Smith and Martinez.

Crist called Bobby Martinez a “brilliant man” and “a dear friend and a loyal ally.”

But, he added, “There are others who we’ll be interviewing, too. And I look forward to the process.”

Crist, who is running against former House Speaker Marco Rubio in a GOP primary in November to replace Martinez, cited integrity rather than someone who would mirror his own votes Congress as his top priority in making the selection.

“I have to appoint somebody who in my belief number one has great integrity, will serve our fellow Floridians with honor and will do an incredible job of making sure that we continue to be well represented in both seats in the United States Senate,” Crist told reporters after a morning meeting with educators at the governor’s mansion. “Those are my primary considerations.”

Lincoln Diaz-Balart bows out of U.S. Senate consideration

Monday, August 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

diaz-balartU.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart withdrew his name for consideration to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez this evening.

Diaz-Balart issued a statement this evening saying he told Gov. Charlie Crist to remove him from the short list of three to fill in for Martinez until next year’s November election.

“I have informed Governor Charlie Crist this evening that I will not be submitting the Questionnaire for appointment to the Senate he kindly asked me to consider submitting. It was a great honor to be considered by Governor Crist for appointment to the United States Senate. I thank him for his kind gesture of confidence. After giving the Governor’s request serious consideration and deliberation, I have decided to remain in the U.S. House of Representatives fighting for the causes which I deeply believe in,”‬‪‬‪‬‪ the statement reads.

That leaves Tallahassee lobbyist Jim Smith, a Democrat-turned Republican who served on the Florida Cabinet as both Attorney General and Secretary of State, and former U.S. prosecutor Bobby Martinez.

Crist is scheduled to meet with Martinez tomorrow at the Miami airport at 1 p.m.

Crist is leaving office after one term to run for the seat and is being challenged in a GOP primary by former House Speaker Marco Rubio.

Diaz-Balart out; Crist to meet with to meet with possible Martinez replacement Martinez

Monday, August 17th, 2009 by Dara Kam

From left to right: Diaz-Balart, Martinez, Smith

From left to right: Diaz-Balart, Martinez, Smith

Gov. Charlie Crist will meet with Bobby Martinez, not the former governor, tomorrow afternoon at the Miami airport.

Martinez is on Crist’s short list to replace outgoing U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who is stepping down 15 months before his term ends in November.

Martinez (Bobby) is a former U.S. prosecutor who sits on the state Board of Education and was a chief transition aide to both Crist and Jeb Bush when they took over as governor.

Last week, Crist asked Martinez (Bobby), U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jim Smith, now a top-tier Tallahassee lobbyist, to apply as Martinez’ fill-in for the next 15 months.

Crist is leaving office next year after just one term to run for the post himself.

Bobby Martinez is considered by some GOP operatives to be the likeliest candidate to replace Mel Martinez, and not because they share the same surname.

Sources close to Diaz-Balart say that he today withdrew his name from consideration for the post.

And Smith’s lobbying career could make him vulnerable to criticism, although he’s considering retiring. Quitting his lobbying job may not quell objections, however. His partner Brian Ballard, one of Crist’s closest advisers, is also his son-in-law.

Greer: No one knew Martinez would quit until he quit

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Dara Kam

chairman_greerGov. Charlie Crist and top GOP officials didn’t know of U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’s decision to resign early until the senator issued a press release on Friday, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer told reporters this morning.

“There is no one who actually knew the event was actually going to take place until immediately prior to or immediately surrounding that statement,” Greer said.

Although rumors that Martinez would step down early circulated for more than six months prior to his resignation, Greer said Martinez repeatedly assured him he was not quitting. Sort of.

“He would say, ‘No I’m not resigning. Tomorrow,” Greer said.

And despite speculation that Martinez quit early to make it easier for Crist to succeed him, Greer said the senator quit to spend more time with his family and not to help the governor.


Martinez’s short Senate tenure leaves questions about his legacy

Friday, August 7th, 2009 by Palm Beach Post Staff

This story was printed in the Aug. 8 edition of The Palm Beach Post.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writers

ORLANDO — By ending an already brief U.S. Senate career Friday, Mel Martinez risks being remembered for little more than just getting elected.

“You don’t get an opportunity to leave a big footprint in the sand unless you’ve been there a while,” said former state Republican Party Chairman Tom Slade.

melmartinezHistory will remember Martinez, a Republican, as the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Senate, a feat he achieved in 2004 by obliterating his primary opponents with record-setting fund raising and outlasting Democrat Betty Castor in an election night nail-biter.

Several politicians and strategists said Martinez, whose announcement comes a day after his vote to confirm Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic U.S. Supreme Court justice, will always be held in high esteem among the state’s critically important Hispanic voters.

Hispanics account for one of the fastest growing groups of swing voters in the state.

“When he ran for the U.S. Senate, the conventional wisdom was that a Hispanic could not get elected statewide in Florida,” said Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Marco Rubio, the first Hispanic Florida House speaker. “He dispelled all of that.”

Martinez: I’m leaving of my own free will, in good health, and heading to private sector

Friday, August 7th, 2009 by Palm Beach Post Staff

This blog has been updated since it was originally posted at 3:10 p.m.

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

ORLANDO — U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez just told reporters at Orlando International Airport that he is indeed stepping down — of his own free will, and not under duress from anybody.

“This is a free country,” he said. “The people of Florida elected me. This is only about my desire to move on with the rest of my life.”

He described his departure as “a return to Florida and a return to my family.” He said he will not seek any other public office. And he said he would not reopen the possibility of become president of Florida State University; he had taken himself out of the running in mid-July.

He said he’s in good health, “thank God.” And he added that the next phase of his life “will be in the private sector.”

“There’s going to be a 60-day gap where I won’t be doing much of anything,” Martinez added, talking about spending time on Lake Eola with his wife, Kitty. And he said he would remain an outspoken member of the Cuban exile community, and would speak out against the island’s communist regime. “That has always been my passion. I will continue that lifelong passion.”

Martinez said he informed Gov. Charlie Crist of his decision by telephone, but the senator offered no hints of who his successor should be. He referred all such questions to Crist.

By the way, the resignation of a U.S. senator from a major state wasn’t apparently very fascinating to some of the big TV networks. CNN showed footage of Martinez speaking, but anchor Rick Sanchez kept talking the entire time. CNN Headline News actually allowed some of Martinez’s words to make it on the air before cutting away to other news.

Fox aired more of the news conference, including Martinez’s response to several questions. But they, too, broke away.

First U.S. Senate debate in Palm Beach on Friday?

Monday, July 6th, 2009 by Dara Kam

crist-rubioFormer House Speaker and GOP U.S. Senate wannabe Marco Rubio will address reporters and editors in Palm Beach on Friday. Also invited but not yet confirmed is Gov. Charlie Crist, who’s the leading Republican candidate to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

MeekU.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic contender for the high-profile post who’s stumped through the Florida Panhandle all weekend, is also a maybe at the annual Florida Press Association/Florida Society of Newspaper Editors convention.

Meek’s got to be in D.C. to vote in Congress but might get there at the tail-end of the 2:30-4 p.m. Friday powwow, his campaign spokesman Adam Sharon said.

Poll shows Floridians know who their governor is

Monday, June 29th, 2009 by Dara Kam

A new Mason DIxon poll shows that nearly all Floridians recognize Gov. Charlie Crist’s name – but less than half of them viewhim favorably.

The poll, released today, shows Crist leading former House Speaker Marco Rubio by 51 to 23 percent in the GOP race to fill retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez’ seat, with 26 percent undecided.

Crist has nearly total name recognition among Florida Republicans while Rubio is recognized by just more than half, the poll found.

But among GOP voters who recognize both Rubio and Crist, the poll shows them in a virtual dead heat – Crist with 33 percent and Rubio with 31.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek has a 27 to 12 percent lead over U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown but nearly two-thirds of voters – 61 percent – remain undecided in that race. 0
In a General Election, Crist leads 48 percent to 26 percent over Meek, with 26 percent undecided. Crist also leads Brown by 55 percent to 24 percent, with 21 percent undecided.

In the general election, the poll showed Crist with a slightly smaller lead over Meek – 48 to 26 percent, with 26 percent undecided.

The poll was released by Ron Sachs Communications.

Crist on swine flu, DNA database, TK, etc.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in on a variety of topics this morning after signing several law enforcement-related bills at the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles this morning.

Sheltered from the blazing heat by tents, slews of department employees dressed in bright red shirts turned out to hear Crist speak and pose for pictures with the governor, who is also running to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

Among the bills Crist signed today was one that will expand the state’s DNA database. Law enforcement officials, now limited to taking DNA samples from those convicted of crimes, will now be able to take DNA from anyone who is arrested.

But Crist defended the bill (SB 2276) which civil liberties advocates argue is too far-reaching and have threatened to challenge in court.

“I think it’ll be alright or I wouldn’t have signed the bill. I think that we need to protect first and make sure that our people are safe. I think that this legislation will help us to do that even better,” he said.

Read what else Crist told reporters at a gaggle after the bill-signing after the jump. (more…)

Gelber out of U.S. Senate race

Sunday, May 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Florida Democrats appear to be spared a costly primary election for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.

State Sen. Dan Gelber has dropped out of the race against U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who’s already collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions.

“It makes little sense — when we do face the prospect of real change in Florida — for me to participate in a potentially divisive primary for U.S. Senate that will only serve to diminish our chances against a very formidable and well-known Republican nominee,” Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said in a message posted on Facebook.

Republicans so far still have a potentially divisive primary on their hands. Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is still in the race against Gov. Charlie Crist despite Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer’s endorsement of the governor.

Democrats, too, want to avoid costly and potentially politically damaging primaries, as Gelber said to his supporters on a Facebook posting.

Gelber’s expressed an interested in running for attorney general, along with fellow senator Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and former state senator Rod Smith. Gelber’s name is also being tossed around as a possible running mate with CFO Alex Sink, who is likely to be the Democratic candidate for governor.
Read Gelber’s message after the jump.

Thurman, Graham endorse Sink

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009 by Dara Kam

Minutes after she announced her candidacy for governor, Florida Democratic Party leader Karen Thurman and former governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham endorsed Alex Sink.

Sink, with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson one of only two Democrats elected to statewide office, ended speculation about her run the day after Gov. Charlie Crist announced he would not seek reelection but would run to replace retiring GOP U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez.

“In just a short period of time, Alex has already cut wasteful spending, cracked down on financial fraud and scams, reformed government contracting and provided our state with a fresh approach to solving problems and restoring Florida’s economy,” Graham said in a statement.

“Floridians are cheering today now that Alex Sink has announced her candidacy for governor. As a businesswoman who delivers real results for the people of Florida, CFO Alex Sink is not only the Democrats’ strongest candidate but she’s the very best candidate for the job,” Thurman’s release said.

Although Sink has been mum about her plans, her attention from national Democrats has not gone unnoticed.

Recently, one of Boca Raton U.S. Rep. Ron Klein’s aides, Stephanie Grutman, came to work for Sink. Sink hired spokeswoman Kyra Jennings, a veteran of several Democratic congressional campaigns, about three months ago.

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