With Governor Rick Scott’s most recent approval ratings somewhere south of Antarctica, Florida’s Democratic Party may have its best opportunity to begin taking advantage of the current political climate in advance of the 2014 elections. Several potential names are already being thrown about, with term-limited State Senator Nan Rich of South Florida already having tossed her hat in the ring. Other names being tossed out include 2010 nominee Alex Sink, West Palm Beach’s Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and even former Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. One name which is also being considered is a person who isn’t even a Democrat; at least not yet.
The former governor has been a busy man lately. Between a speech at the Democratic National Convention, campaign stops for President Obama, and his own speeches, the former Republican-turned-Independent is making waves across the country. Now questions are surfacing as to whether Crist is gearing up for a run at the governor’s mansion in 2014…as a Democrat.
Crist, who lost to Senator Marco Rubio in 2010 after turning independent, was interviewed on the Daily Rundown on September 13 about his rousing speech given at the DNC in August. When asked about his helping President Obama, Crist was direct about his political leanings.
“I’m an independent,” he replied. “But I’m happy to be helping the president in Florida.”
Crist’s name, however, continues to poll well along with “official” Democrats, for a variety of reasons. While Senator Rich is well respected in her South Florida base, she is a relative unknown elsewhere. Alex Sink’s loss to Rick Scott in 2010 still sits fresh in Floridians minds, as does her connections to the banking industry in a state rocked by the Great Recession. Wasserman-Schultz, despite her heroic battle with breast cancer and her national connections, is considered by many in Florida to be a near lunatic-fringe sort of candidate. Buddy Dyer’s checkered past was dredged up once before on the campaign trail, and this will likely scrub any serious chance he has at the nomination. Crist, however, only carries one signifcant burden; the image of an opportunist who jumped his old party’s ship when it appeared he wouldn’t win the U.S. Senate nomination over rising star Marco Rubio. His battles against the state GOP and, in particular, disgraced GOP head Jim Greer, has painted Crist as the victim of a purge effort by the far-right wing of the party.
Would Floridians give Crist another shot at the governor’s office? That may depend entirely on the undercard. For Rick Scott, Jennifer Carroll was first considered a sure-fire winner, but when a scandal involving allegations of sexual harassment on a female staffer by her arose, her stock dropped rapidly. Today, Carroll is a capable attack weapon, but that’s about all she’s been lately. For Florida Democrats, a Lt. Governor with substance, style and name recognition would be just what the doctor ordered.
Enter former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio.
Nicknamed “Mayor Mommy” by radio pundits in the Tampa Bay area, Iorio has been rather mum about her intentions for 2014. Speculation has been flying as to whether she is considering running for the General Assembly, the U.S. Senate, or is going to toss her own hat into the ring for governor. To many, Iorio represents that elusive “happy medium” between liberals and conservatives which Florida voters tend to gravitate towards. Though some believe Iorio’s style to be heavy handed compared to her successor, the more relaxed Bob Buckhorn, even her critics agree that Iorio’s no-nonsense, professional demeanor is an asset that Florida Democrats should not overlook.
David Colburn, director of the Reubin Askew Institute, had nothing but praise for the former mayor following a speech given by Iorio in Gainesville in February.
“As a mayor of one of the most dynamic cities in Florida, I think she’s got an extraordinary perspective,” Colburn told the Gainesville Sun.
While some on the far right may be licking their chops at the prospect of a Crist-Iorio ticket in 2014, don’t be too sure it would be an easy win. Crist still enjoys immense popularity in Florida, and recent Public Policy Polling article suggests he could beat Scott in a head-to-head contest if it were held today. Iorio has experienced a string of post-mayoral successes, most recently being her being tapped to revitalized the scandal-ridden Children’s Board of Hillsborough County. Also, with Crist being a St. Petersburg native, the notion of a “Tampa-St. Petersburg Ticket,” representing two cities which can never seem to agree on anything, may be a dream-come-true for Florida Democrats. It will be a safe bet that Rick Scott’s campaign team will be watching how this situation develops.