Gov. Rick Scott has made his long-awaited appointees to the Republican Executive Committee, and it’s quite a hodge-podge. Heavy on healthcare types, North Florida folks and FORs (Friends of Rick), the appointees have the unenviable task of voting in the increasingly nasty Republican Party of Florida chairman’s race. The appointees are in alphabetical order:
1) John Colon, longtime Sarasota party activist and FOR, as well as Jennifer Carrol supporter.
2) Tom Grady, former Naples state Rep.
3) Mike Hightower, major Republican money man and Blue Cross lobbyist
4) Adam Hollingsworth, Scott campaign/transition hand and Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton aide.
5) Scott Hopes, 25-year FOR and healthcare lobbyist
6) Alan Levine, healthcare wiz/consultant and former HCA employee/Jeb Bush appointee/Bobby Jindal appointee
7) Manny Morono, Sweetwater mayor and early Scott supporter
8) Bo Rivard, lawyer-lobbyist from the Panhandle and FOR
9) John Rood, Republican party elder statesman and former ambassador
10) Susie Wiles, Scott campaign manager.
In a few not-for-attribution interviews with the Scott appointees, they’ve said Scott has given them no direction. He has met with all the candidates. He likes some more than others. The Scott appointees also say it’s clear what we’ve said before: The race right now looks like a struggle between Hillsborough County Chair Debbie Cox-Roush and Jefferson State Committeeman Dave Bitner (Note: he’s not a lobbyist, having withdrawn on 12/08/10).
Cox-Roush seems to have some Florida Senate support lined up, having received a friendly introduction recently to Senate President Mike Haridopolos via outgoing Chair John Thrasher. He insists he’s neutral even though Cox-Roush joined Senate leadership to help him win the chairmanship last go-round. Haridopolos isn’t saying his preference, either. But this race means much to him. He’s likely to announce in the coming weeks that he’s running for U.S. Senate, and having an insider at the party could help him. Or it could hurt. Just ask Charlie Crist.
Cox Roush has some baggage. And some REC voters are nervous about that. Not only is a Tampa Bay-area consultant spreading dirt about her (e.g., catering business troubles, her long-ago DUI), she has also estranged some Republicans in her own backyard who are running an anyone-but-Debbie insurgency. They helped gin up an anonymous and fake MADD/SADD letter to REC voters against Roush. MADD member and Martin Comitteeman Eric Miller said that email wasn't sent by a MADD member. He at least put his name to an email to say he's voting against Cox-Roush because he likes someone else, not because of the DUI. He didn't say whom he liked, though. But he said in an interview he likes Bitner.
All that aside, Cox-Roush likely has strong support among the female REC members, a big help in a five-way race featuring four men.
Bitner hasn’t escaped the mud-slinging. He’s being portrayed as a wife beater by the dirt-dishing consultant (we’ve heard the consultant has a blogger buddy, a criminal past and a penchant for prurient games). Bitner’s wife said that, years ago, she tried to get revenge on him during a dispute by filing for a restraining order that she now regrets because he wasn't in the wrong. Too late. Even though it's unfair, he's now subject to the no-win political question: Have you stopped beating your wife, yet? He never hit her. Bitner and his wife have said that publicly and the two even met privately with Gov. Scott. But the stigma is there because of a court document that Mrs. Bitner wishes she could withdraw, and that the slime merchant is happily shopping around sans context.
On the first round of voting Saturday (and there could be multiple rounds), Cox-Roush seems likely to come in first, with Bitner in second. Note the “seems” here. Anything can happen. Still, if the likely scenario plays out, then the big question is where do the supporters of Sarasota Chairman Joe Gruters, Pinellas Committeeman Tony DiMatteo and Palm Beach Chairman Sid Dinerstein go? And what about the House appointees of Speaker Cannon? A few say they’re undecided.
That makes Friday and Saturday all the more crucial for the five candidates before the Saturday vote.