By Kartik Krishnaiyer
Alex Sink’s decision to not seek the US Senate being vacated by Mel Martinez is a blessing in disguise for the Democratic Party. Sink while capable and a statewide electoral winner would have become the latest Florida Democrat from the Tampa Bay area in the category of “we must nominate a moderate from outside south Florida category.”
The last three high profile statewide races have seen the Democrats nominate perceived moderates from the Tampa Bay area. All three have lost the general election. Sink’s husband Bill McBride suffered the single worst defeat for a Democratic Gubernatorial nominee in Florida’s history. McBride won a contentious primary over Miami’s Janet Reno, the former Clinton Administration Attorney General by carrying 62 of 67 Florida counties in the primary but being beaten by 26 points in Palm Beach County, 38 in Broward and a whopping 68 points in Miami-Dade County. Reno’s home base, represented by the three aforementioned counties then underperformed for McBride in the general election.
In 2004, Betty Castor provided the modrate profile Florida Democratic leaders believed would carry the US Senate seat being vacated by Bob Graham. While Castor ran strong in the Tampa Bay Area, she did not deliever the needed numbers in other traditional “Republican horseshoe” counties to defeat Mel Martinez. Castor also underperformed in Miami-Dade County, much as McBride had done.
Jim Davis was a stronger nominee than many expected in 2006. Yet the Tampa area Congressman and former Florida House Majority Leader (this shows my age. I remember well Davis as the majority leader in the last two years the Democrats controlled the body) still lost by a wide margin statewide and did not perform particularly well in his home area. Davis however also suffered from the fallout of a primary where Democrats in the Legislature wrongly attacked his electability. These Democrats almost universally had endorsed McBride because of his perceived “electability” in 2002 and used the same argument in an attempted undermining of Davis in 2006. Davis may have bucked the trend of Tampa Bay area nominees if not for this nasty divisive rhetoric in the primary.
Sink’s decision to not seek the Senate seat gives the Democrats an opportunity to reverse the trend of nominating candidates from the Tampa Bay area whose mushy moderation may or may not distingusih them adequetly from the GOP nominee. With Congressman Kendrick Meek having announced, a strong south Florida liberal has already entered the race. Others such as Florida Senator Dan Gelber may also jump in. The Democrats also have many emerging stars in the Orlando area. This is an opportunity for south Florida, the emrging Democratic area of Metro Orlando and the Democratic Party.