Fresh off the president’s big win, Florida Democrats are starting to tear each other up over who will lead the state party.
In one camp: Allison Tant, a Tallahassee fundraiser for President Obama who was urged to run by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and Broward Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chairwoman.
On the other side: Alan Clendenin, a Hillsborough County retiree, and Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, a Miami-Dade business woman recently elected to chair the county party.
Some insiders expect Taddeo-Goldstein to drop out of the state chair race soon, but she couldn’t be reached for comment on the speculation. The backers of Taddeo-Goldstein and Clendenin deeply resent the involvement of party leaders in the race.
“This is a slap in the face,” said Victor DiMaio, a Tampa Bay consultant and backer of Clendenin. “He has run for this office for months and now higher-ups in the hierarchy are trying to shove him aside."
Current Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith is staying out of the fray. His replacement will be decided Jan. 26 in Lake Mary by Democratic activists and elected officials.Tant said she was encouraged to run for the post by both Wasserman Schultz and Nelson. To qualify for the party chairmanship, she was elected Thursday to lead Leon County’s Democratic committee.
Tant’s backers and Democratic observers say she brings fundraising prowess to a party that badly needs it. Since 2008, Tant said, she has helped Obama and Nelson raise money while working with grassroots activists and organizers.
Tant said the party needs to harness that network of fundraisers and activists as it seeks to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott in two years.
“That network is ready to be pulled together by the right leader,” Tant said.
The party is a minority in the Legislature and holds no statewide elected seats based in the state Capitol, but registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 4 percentage points in Florida.
Clendenin, Hillsborough County’s Democratic state committeeman, recently won the support of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida. Clendenin spoke highly of Taddeo-Goldstein and said she would be a top leader with him should he win the post. He said he didn’t know Tant as well.
The problem with Tant’s candidacy, Clendenin said, is that it’s the product of top-down leadership that hasn’t worked in the Democratic Party.
“She’s a defense of the status quo. She’s not a change agent,” he said of Tant.
Tant countered with the fact that she helped President Obama’s election twice. The just-ended election was particularly tough for Obama, who won Florida by less than a percentage point.
“I have been a part of that change,” Tant said.
Tant has also come under fire for her marriage to Barry Richard, a Tallahassee attorney who represented George W. Bush in his successful 2000 legal challenge to stop ballot recounts in Florida. Bush won Florida by 537 votes to become president.
Tant and Richard said she had no part of the lawsuit and that his legal practice is nonpartisan and separate from her activities as a Democrat. Richard, a supporter of Obama and Nelson, is a lifelong Democrat.
The back-and-forth over party chairman isn’t limited to Democrats. Republicans have had spirited contests as well over the years. Races in both parties are often colored by the debate pitting the grassroots against elected party leaders.
Usually, the elected leaders win out and the hard feelings quickly subside when they start battling the other party in an election.