Florida Republicans on Saturday elected Clay County GOP chairwoman Leslie Dougher as interim chair to guide the party through the election cycle this fall. She defeated Eric Miller of Martin County, 106-69, in a surprisingly close vote.
Party activists gathered under a large white air-conditioned tent on the grounds of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay to ratify the choice of Dougher by party leaders in a crucial election cycle when some Republicans say a unified effort will be needed to ensure that Gov. Rick Scott is re-elected.
Scott was among those supporting Dougher's candidacy, but the event had a scripted feel that left a small number of activists disgruntled by what St. Lucie County GOP Chairman Bill Paterson called a "top-down" election dictated by insiders.
"It's always been top-down instead of bottom-up," said Manatee GOP Chairwoman Peggy Simone, who nominated Miller, who has been an outspoken critic of the Common Core educational standards.
Dougher, 50, a Middleburg real estate agent and a California native, is a long-time grass roots GOP activist who had the backing of leading Republicans such as House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who nominated Dougher and called for unity to secure Republican victories this fall.
"She will be a good steward of the Republican Party," Thrasher said.
Dougher (pronounced DO-er) succeeds Lenny Curry, who stepped down after two-and-a-half years to run for mayor of Jacksonville. She becomes the fifth party chair in the past four years.
Curry succeeded former Rep. Dave Bitner, who died after less than a year in office. Bitner succeeded Thrasher, who briefly served as interim chair after helping to force the ouster in 2010 of Jim Greer, who is in prison after pleading guilty to stealing party money. Greer was the choice of former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is now a Democrat and is Scott's leading challenger.
In her speech, Dougher said the re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012 "made me sick to my stomach" and that she doesn't want to see a repeat of that in the governor's race. "The best man did not win. I do not want to feel that way on Nov. 5," Dougher said.
She singled out the work of Pinellas County Republicans in helping to secure U.S. Rep. David Jolly's recent victory in the special election for the 13th Congressional district, even though he was outspent by Democrat Alex Sink.