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Democrats cast eye on Tampa for funding

Published February 11, 2007


Florida is one of the country's ripest states for national campaigns to raise money, but Tampa Bay has never been a prime spot for Democratic fundraising. South Florida has always been the fertile ground for chasing big Democratic bucks.

But, sensing opportunity, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential exploratory campaign is working on a fundraiser in downtown Tampa for either Feb. 20 or 21.

"I'm delighted they thought of the west coast of Florida this early in a presidential campaign. It is unheard of for a serious candidate to come here this early," said former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, a longtime friend of the Clintons'.

Florida, political ATM

Between the state's deep-pocketed donors, and the likelihood that state leaders will make it one of the earliest presidential primary states, Florida is getting increasingly popular for visits by presidential contenders.

Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Friday plans to hold a town-hall-style meeting in The Villages, a central Florida Republican stronghold, to raise money in Jacksonville and to schmooze folks gathered in Orlando for the National Religious Broadcasters convention.

He may bump into some Republican rivals in Orlando. Arizona Sen. John McCain is expected there, and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California are looking at coming, too.

Meanwhile, among Democrats, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards and former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack were expected this weekend in Miami for a convention of trial lawyers. Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is set to keynote the Broward County Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner Feb. 24.

'Political Connections'

State Rep. Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Energy, and he's expecting a lot of bipartisan attention to alternative energy, global warming and conservation in Tallahassee this year.

"A year ago the political climate regarding this issue was very different than it is today, and it starts right up at the top. We have a governor who is very committed to addressing the issue of global warming, and its impact on the state of Florida," Kriseman said in a taped Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9.

Kriseman appears on the show along with Karl Nurse, who leads the Sierra Club's Clean Energy Committee. The interview airs at 11 a.m. on Bay News 9 and can be seen later on Channel 342 (Bay News 9 on Demand).

Poll position

Early presidential polls are mostly about name recognition, but a Florida poll released last week suggested the Sunshine State in 2008 stands to be a major battleground yet again. Quinnipiac University's Jan. 29-Feb. 4 poll of 1,003 Florida voters found Democratic front-runner Clinton neck and neck with either Republican McCain or Rudy Giuliani.

Former New York City Mayor Giuliani had a razor-thin 47 - 44 percent lead over New York Sen. Clinton, while Clinton edged McCain 47-43 percent. Clinton topped Romney 52-34 percent; McCain had 42-40 percent for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, a statistical tie; and McCain had 43-42 percent edge over 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate Edwards, also a tie.

In a Democratic primary race, Clinton led with 49 percent, followed by 13 percent for Obama and 7 percent each for Edwards and former Vice President Al Gore. Among Republicans, Giuliani led with 29 percent, compared to 23 percent for McCain, 14 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 6 percent for Romney.

New GOP team

As expected, new state Republican Party chairman Jim Greer has done away with former chairwoman Carole Jean Jordan's structure of having three executive directors (for political affairs, party development, finance). Andy Palmer is the sole executive director now. Gov. Charlie Crist's Orlando-area field organizer, Delmar Johnson ("If you don't like Delmar, you don't like life," Crist has said) is special assistant to the chairman, working out of the Orlando area.

Nelson loves Crist

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson lavished praise on Republican Crist during a Florida congressional delegation last week, calling Crist's action after the recent tornadoes exceptional.

Crist wasn't at the meeting, but after the new director of his Washington office - Kerry Feehery - was introduced, Nelson made a point of praising Crist's action during the storms were exceptional.

"The governor looks forward to working with the Florida delegation in a bipartisan manner," said Feehery, who used to work for Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. (Martinez, back in Florida attending his foster mother's funeral, was not present.)

A day earlier, during a Senate committee hearing on electronic voting, Nelson praised Crist for his recent recommendation to set aside more than $30-million to replace touch screens with paper ballots by 2008.

"Kudos to Charlie Crist," Nelson said. "He did what was unexpected."

Adam C. Smith and Anita Kumar contributed to this week's Buzz. For more breaking political news, check

[Last modified February 11, 2007, 01:08:36]

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