It's almost session. Do you know who your Florida Senate president will be in two years?
Neither do Sen. Andy Gardiner and Sen. Jack Latvala. The two are still running neck and neck to replace Sen. Don Gaetz, who's to leave the post after the 2014 legislative session.
Advantage: Gardiner. He's current Senate President Mike Haridopolos' Republican leader and his biggest ally is the master of the Capitol game, former House Speaker-turned-uberlobbyist-turned Sen. John Thrasher, a former Republican Party of Florida chairman to boot. Also, Gardiner's raising more money than Latvala, and Gardiner's donors tend to be more on the conservative side of the spectrum (e.g., the Florida Chamber of Commerce), while Latvala is raising money from trial lawyers and unions who tend to be more Democratically aligned.
Even Latvala acknowledges Gardiner has the edge in collecting pledges from the fellow Republicans who dominate the chamber and ultimately decide who the Senate leader will be.
"I'm behind -- but maybe by just one or two votes," Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said.
And that's bad news for Gardiner. Despite all his advantages, he can't yet seal the deal. He isn't as deft a political operator as Latvala. And there's a good amount of discontent with Haridopolos team among Republican senators, who felt they got punked by the House last session when they were forced to cast a final vote to end session after 3:30 in the morning last session. A rather angry Latvala, who gave Haridopolos an earful in private, made a speech on the floor in which he essentially promised to restore the independence of the Senate.
Today, there are persistent rumors that Thrasher will replace Gardiner in the race. But Gardiner says he's still running. And Thrasher said he's not undermining his friend from Orlando.
"I'm 100 percent behind Andy Gardiner," Thrasher says. What if Gardiner leaves the race? "He isn't," Thrasher said. But what if?