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Rod Smith for Florida Democratic Party Chair?

Former Sen. Rod Smith, the recently defeated Democratic Lt. Gov candidate and a 2006 failed gubernatorial candidate, looks like he is pulling together strong support to replace Karen Thurman, outgoing Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, who saw one of the worst-ever defeats of her party at the polls Nov. 2.

We earlier posted that he was close to winning it. But Smith called us back and said he's not sure about what he'll do.

"I've had conversations, several since Monday," Smith said, declining to name names. "I'm not sure the job is mine. And I'm not sure I would take it if the job were offered. These are tough times for the party, so I need more time and I need to talk to more people. Obviously, the devil's in the details."

A number of current and former lawmakers say Thurman, whom we can't reach, favors Smith. And so do they. Smith said he'll meet with Thurman later. Democrats say he's simply the best choice.

Smith, an electrifying speaker and former prosecutor, is a good fit. He's well respected. He knows the legislative and electoral process. He understands the state, having run twice statewide. He's a strong fundraiser. He's well-liked by the gun lobby and agriculture community.

But does he look like the face of the Democratic Party in Florida?

Smith is from Alachua, about as far away culturally from Allapattah or South St. Pete or any other urban black district (i.e., the Democratic Party base) as you can get. But at least he's not from Tampa Bay, home of the three previous Democratic losers: Alex Sink, Jim Davis and Bill McBride. All failed to gin up the South Florida and minority vote. All of them lost. Then again, Buddy MacKay didn't fare much better in 1998 against Jeb Bush.

Smith, seemingly a no-show on the campaign trail this year in high-profile events, was the spearhead of the failed strategy to appeal to white, rural voters and conservative Democrats, who appeared to vote in droves for Republican Rick Scott's ticket. Meantime, South Florida Democrats -- and especially black Democrats -- felt a little left out. So many stayed home.

Alex Sink bears more blame for that than Smith. And perhaps Barack Obama and U.S. Senate Democrats are even more to blame. But still, it raises questions about whether the Democratic party is doomed in Florida mid-term elections. Or have they not had the right candidate or party leader? Is Rod Smith the guy who can help inspire enough Democrats -- who have a 600,000 registration edge over Republicans -- to actually vote the ticket? Can Smith actually get the party to run an effective absentee-ballot and early-vote program that matches the Republican Party of Florida? Obviously, we'll see (first he has to be named chair).

 

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