State is gaining clout, GOP told

Published May 20, 2007

Would Florida Republicans prefer Brit Hume or Sean Hannity? Those are the likely moderators for Florida's national televised Republican presidential debate in October, state GOP chairman Jim Greer told party activists Saturday. The Fox News debate is part of the Oct. 20-21 "Presidency IV" event in Orlando that's shaping up to be a big deal.

Addressing his party's quarterly meeting in Orlando, Greer said he expects also to have a "mini convention" featuring speeches from all of the presidential candidates, who will also host receptions for Florida Republicans. Kissing up to Florida Republicans is all the more important for presidential campaigns now that Florida is moving up its primary to Jan. 29, 2008.

"Florida's going to be in the driver's seat for who's going to be the next president of the United States, " Greer gushed.

Party leaders scrapped plans for a "straw vote" measuring the popularity of the candidates, but every county will name delegates, called "ambassadors."

"It's an awesome opportunity for every county to build their grass roots going into this election, " said Hillsborough Republican Party chairman David Storck.

Presidential activity

How much presidential activity is Florida already seeing? Consider just the past week. Democrat Joe Biden spoke with AFL-CIO members in Miami-Dade on Wednesday. Democrat John Edwards raised money with, among others, former Democratic attorney general candidate Walter "Skip" Campbell in Broward County Thursday. Republican Rudy Giuliani campaigned in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa on Friday. Republicans Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback addressed the Florida Family Policy Council Saturday night. Tonight and Monday, Hillary Clinton will be raising money in Broward and Miami-Dade. Republican Mitt Romney will be in Polk county and Jacksonville Thursday.

"You're going to have lots of presidential candidates here. It's going to do wonders for your economy because we're going to spend millions and millions on TV, " Giuliani quipped in Orlando.

'Bozo's big top'

In Orlando on Saturday, Buzz caught up with former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee, the underdog Republican candidate who stood out at the last presidential debate with a joke about John Edwards in a beauty shop.

He clearly was not impressed with longer shot Republican Ron Paul, who suggested America bore some blame for the 9/11 attacks.

Huckabee recounted what went through his mind listening to Paul during that debate: "The Republicans are supposed to have a big tent. But this is Bozo's big top, and there's the side show. Good God, give us a break."

Asked about a national catastrophe fund to ease the property insurance crisis in Florida and other states, he was receptive but said he'd have to see the details. Rebuilding people's beach homes doesn't appeal to him, but, "I come from a state that's prone to tornadoes and floods. I understand how devastating it can be, so I'm very sympathetic."

On government intervention in the Terri Schiavo case: "I had no problem with the state getting involved because it's one of their citizens. But I wasn't sure how the federal government had a role in all that."

Rudy prospecting

In Tampa, former New York Mayor Giuliani met privately with some prospective supporters who have big Rolodexes. Among the heavy-hitter Republican fundraisers attending: Al Austin, Dick Beard, Dr. Akshay Desai, Rick Michaels, Dr. R.R. Vijay and Nick Kotaiche.

Honoring Al

Speaking of Al Austin, the Tampa developer and former state Republican finance chairman on Saturday received a rousing standing ovation and award for all he's done for the party over four decades. He assured the assembled activists his work is not over.

"Back in 1964, we had a Lincoln Day Dinner and we were lucky if 18 to 20 people turned out. We've come a very long way, " Austin said. "I'm not going away. The problem with politics is once you get involved you get addicted and there's no cure for this addiction."

Keeping his guard up

Gov. Charlie Crist clearly noticed the tempest that Democratic Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius recently stirred when she suggested following a devastating tornado that Iraq and Afghanistan were overstretching the National Guard's ability to deal with domestic needs. At last week's Cabinet meeting, Crist was uncharacteristically brusque after Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson asked state Veterans Affairs Secretary LeRoy Collins Jr. a question about Florida's Guard.

Collins, a former Navy admiral and U.S Senate candidate, started to talk about Florida's "heavily taxed" guard when Crist cut him off: "It is my department, so I'll be happy to address it, " said the governor, declaring that Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett had assured him, "We're in great shape."

A few minutes later Crist apologized to Bronson: "I didn't mean to be short, but one of my colleagues in Kansas has been rather in depth in getting involved in the issue you raised with our wonderful admiral. I've been studying up a lot on it lately out of need. ... It's an emotional issue."

Political connections

Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson suspects Secretary of State Kurt Browning, Pasco County's former elections chief, would be a lot less keen on switching by 2008 to systems that include paper trails if he still had his old job.

"Kurt, if he was not the secretary of state, he would probably be leading the charge to take more time, " Johnson said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. "Florida, of course, being the bellwether swing state that it is, Kurt is doing a good job carrying the water on the governor's proposal."

Also on today's show is state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who leads Tampa Bay's legislative delegation and has been closely involved in the debate over health coverage for children.

GOP changes

Back when Crist was mounting a doomed campaign against Democratic Sen. Bob Graham, Jim Rimes and Crist criss-crossed the state on the long-shot campaign.

Rimes has since become one of the best regarded campaign operatives in Florida, and after a stint as Crist's deputy chief of staff, has been named executive director of the Florida Republican Party.

Where's Alex Sink?

The Clinton campaign rolled out some endorsements from prominent Florida women: Tampa state Sen. Arthenia Joyner; West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel; Miami-Dade County Commissioner Katy Sorenson; former National Organization for Women president Patricia Ireland of Miami; former American Bar Association president Martha Barnett of Tallahassee; former state Rep. Elaine Bloom of Miami Beach; Palm Beach County Tax Collector Anne Gannon; and Daytona Beach businesswoman Evelyn Fine.

Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Buzz. For much more breaking political news check out blogs.tampabay.com/buzz.