Tuesday, December 6, 2005

After Jeb!

The race in Florida to succeed Jeb Bush is getting going with several candidates on both sides getting websites up and running. The newest is the effort by Rep. Jim Davis, a Tampa Democrat who has revamped and re-launched his site as of today.

State races in Florida are mixed bag. The state is basically split into two distinct sections: south of the I-4 corridor which runs from Tampa on the west to Cape Canaveral on the east is considered as about as diverse as you can get with a mixture of ethnicities and interests — Cuban Republicans, traditional progressive snowbirds from the Northeast (i.e. the Jewish vote), the gays and lesbians in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, and Key West, the wealthy retirees along the “Treasure Coast,” and the NASCAR dad/soccer mom mix in the vast tracts of suburbs inland. Compare that to the northern part of the state from Orlando to Jacksonville and across to Pensacola, which tends to run to the far more conservative old style Deep South side of the aisle (the panhandle is sometimes referred to as Lower Alabama) with its large rural areas and middle-class retirees who are deeply suspicious of anything that smells slightly of progressivism beyond 1948. It makes it a delicate dance for any candidate running statewide; how to appeal to South Florida without pissing off the rest of the state, and vice versa. The last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles, managed to do it by coming across as a good ole boy of the Harry Truman mold, and Jeb! did it by coming across as a moderate yet “values” oriented conservative with a multicultural appeal — his wife is Hispanic — and he managed to stave off a complete right-wing revolt by making an anemic effort in the Terri Schiavo case last spring.

It will be interesting, therefore, to see how the Democrats make their case. The campaigns thus far have been long on generic appeal and short on specifics; I have yet to discern where the announced Democrats stand on things such as reproductive choice, same-sex marriage, equitable education funding for all districts, and other issues that are going to come up in the 2006 legislative session. In addition, the Florida House and Senate are controlled by Republicans from upstate; getting them to follow the agenda of any Democrat will be like trying to poke a cat out from under a porch with a wet rope.

If there’s any saving grace for the Democrats, it may be that the Republicans are fielding as many potential candidates as they are, and the distraction will be that the race for the Republican nod for the Senate to run against Bill Nelson seems to be caught up in the allergic reaction by some Republicans to the candidacy of the infamous Katherine Harris…she of the Florida recount fiasco in 2000 and now a US Representative. That may make it hard for the Republican gubernatorial candidates to get much attention, and that, by default, may help the Democrats. Stay tuned.

Update: fixed the link to the Davis site.