Perhaps The Most Important Race ...
On the surface it would seem that Florida Democrats just ain't a perfect fit with farmers and cattle ranchers. And on the surface, you'd be right.
So it may seem odd that I think the campaign for Ag Commissioner may be second most important Florida election in 2006 after the US Senate.
Even more important than the campaign for Governor?
Conventional wisdom in Florida is that you have to lose a statewide race before you can win one. You have to get known, make the connections and be seen on TV. Since 1990, I can think of only three first time candidates who beat statewide veterans. (Extra credit if you can name them. Answer at the end).
Accepting that maxim as true, we suck at learning that lesson.
Our unsuccessful statewide aspirants just disappear. Bill McBride must have entered the witness protection program after winning the nomination for Governor. Buddy MacKay did no better - although he can be excused after 30 years of public service. Buddy Dyer is temporarily off the statewide stage. Paging John Cosgrove. Has anyone seen George Sheldon? All points bulletin for Peter Wallace.
Am I crazy to believe that Peter Wallace or Bill McBride would kick Joe Negron's ass for Attorney General?
So with the Republicans running two well-known statewide elected officials against our triumvirate of skilled but outgunned hopefuls, putting all our eggs in the governor's basket seems risky and foolish.
So ideally who we run today should be (at least a little bit) about who will run later.
Which brings me back to the race for Agriculture Commissioner.
Since the Ag Commission race is the only statewide contest with an incumbent (again, besides the US Senate), it's likely that whichever Democrat runs will lose.
And if we're likely to lose anyway, why haven't we been looking for a person who isn't say a perfect match to be Commissioner of Agriculture today but could be a good CFO candidate or Attorney General Candidate in four years?
Or better yet, how about someone who will commit to running for Agriculture Commissioner again in four years when the seat is open?
I can already hear a Skip Campbell thundering away on uprooting citrus trees in the back yards of Tamarac grandmothers. I see former Rep. and citrus giant Rick Minton enticing thousands of conservative Democrats back to our party. I can even envision Al Lawson opening the eyes of Florida voters to see African-American candidates as more than just urban liberals.
A few months back, I wrote an article on our undervalued and overlooked bench where I listed at least 10 Democrats who are ready for statewide attention. Any of those, or the three above, could run a good, solid campaign, finish with 45% or better and be the automatic frontrunner in 2010.
I'm not trying to be a pessimist but just consider what happens if we fall short in our quest to re-take the Governor's mansion.
And that loss trickles down to close loses for Attorney General and Chief Financial Officer.
And not one of those three nominees is interested in running again in 2010.
In one bad election night, we'd be looking at 2014 - likely with another crop of first-timers on a statewide ballot.
I just can't wait that long to start winning again.
I hope we win everything next year. But I'm unwilling to risk what happens if we don't. That's why it's extremely important to find someone who can run for Ag Commissioner now with at least one eye on 2010.
Let me ask for you help here.
When you see one of our statewide candidates or hear of someone who's considering a run, pull them aside and ask them: if they don't win, are they willing to run again in 2008, 2010, or whenever?
Use their answers as a gauge for measuring their commitment to the long haul of re-building this party. Count on me to do the same.
(EXTRA CREDIT: Bob Milligan knocked off Chris Comstock in the 1994 GOP Primary and then Gerald Lewis in the 1994 General for Comptroller, Katherine Harris upset Sandra Mortham in a GOP Primary in 1998 and Mel Martinez edged out Betty Castor last year).