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Is Ausley the Dem's answer to Atwater?

UPDATE: Former Tallahassee state Rep. Loranne Ausley said she will decide after the holiday whether she'll seek the Democratic nomination for the chief financial officer, the powerful Cabinet agency being vacated by Democrat Alex Sink, who is running for governor.

Ausley, who was termed limited out of the state house in 2008, is now a candidate for the state Senate seat being vacated by Al Lawson. But she faces a tough three-way primary against former Leon County Schools Superintendent Bill Montford and former state Rep. Curtis Richardson in the heavily Democratic district and is being aggressively recruited by party insiders to switch to the wide-open CFO post.

If Ausley decides to run, she faces state Senate President Jeff Atwater, the North Palm Beach Republican who has amassed $1 million in his campaign coffers since he quietly announced in May. Atwater also comes fortified with $350,000 of cash on hand from his political committee, Preserve the American Dream.

Democratic political consultant Steve Schale said of Ausley: "She's a moderate, incredibly bright and there's no question she'd put together a credible campaign.'' As for Atwater's financial heft, he adds that outside of Tallahassee and Palm Beach County "nobody's heard of Jeff Atwater."

Plus, Atwater -- who beat former Attorney General Bob Butterworth in a state senate race in 2002 -- carries some inherent negatives, Schale says: "He's leading the most unpopular institution in Florida right now. People tend to overstate his electoral prowess. $1 million is a lot of money but $1 million doesn't go very far in Florida.''

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