When Gov. Rick Scott appeared in Tampa Monday with his newly-appointed chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, the crowd welcoming them included Republican Sen. Tom Lee, whose interest in a possible second candidacy for the Cabinet post has been well-known for a long time.
"I got a chance to congratulate him, which is something I thought I should do," Lee told the Times/Herald. "I'm happy for him. It's a real honor to be appointed by the governor. But as to all of the speculation, I'm going to defer to another day."
Lee's deference, and his unwillingness to step on Scott's big announcement, are understandable. But friends are urging him to take a close look at the CFO race because of his extensive knowledge of how the state spends money. There are compelling arguments for and against Lee running for the seat, even if Patronis decides to seek a four-year term.
Lee already has a healthy $1.9 million balance in his political committee, The Conservative, which provides a nice starting-off point. The former Senate president lost a 2006 CFO bid to Democrat Alex Sink, but he hails from the state's largest TV market of Tampa-St. Petersburg, where the well-organized candidacy of Republican Ashley Moody for attorney general could boost turnout. (Patronis is from the small Panama City market).
Lee had a frustrating session in the Senate and a statewide race may be more appealing. He has a handy pocketbook issue to remind voters of Patronis' pro-utility votes on the Public Service Commission.
On the other hand, Patronis wears the mantle of incumbency, would obviously have Scott's personal support and the help of the governor's Let's Get to Work machine, which is enough to give anyone pause. But Patronis starts out with essentially zero statewide name recognition.
Lee knows what it's like to be in a tough GOP primary for statewide office. It's brutal and it's very expensive. He had to spend about $2.5 million to get past the pesky former Rep. Randy Johnson before losing to Sink in November 2006, the same election that put Charlie Crist in the governor's mansion.