Taking aim at the 2014 gubernatorial race, party leaders Saturday chose Allison Tant, a major fund-raiser for President Barack Obama, as chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.
Tant will succeed Chairman Rod Smith, who did not seek another term after leading the party through a 2012 election cycle that included Obama's win in Florida, the re-election of Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and gains in the legislative and congressional delegations.
"I have seen firsthand through my travels that Florida Democrats are energized by the gains of this last election cycle and poised to do what has eluded our party for over a decade: elect a Democratic governor,'' Tant said Saturday in a prepared statement. "I look forward to working together with our tremendous grassroots volunteers to defeat (Republican Gov.) Rick Scott and elect Democrats up-and-down the ticket."
Tant won the chairmanship by a vote of 587 to 448 over Tampa activist Alan Clendenin, who will serve as party vice-chairman, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The vote came during a meeting of the Democratic Party State Executive Committee in Lake Mary.
Clendenin focused his campaign on grass-roots support, saying he had ties to constituencies such as labor, Hispanic Democrats, black Democrats and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians. He described himself last month as "the bridge guy."
But Tant, the chairwoman of the Leon County Democratic Executive Committee, enjoyed the backing of influential party figures such as Nelson and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
Tant raised more than $330,000 for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and also raised money for congressional, legislative and local candidates, according to information on her website. That fund-raising experience could be particularly important as Democrats try to unseat Scott next year and win a gubernatorial election for the first time since 1994.
Republican candidates typically enjoy a huge financial edge over Democrats. As an indication, the state Republican Party raised about $28.2 million in 2012, while the Democratic Party collected about $11.2 million. Also, a Scott-linked political committee has already brought in more than $5 million to prepare for the 2014 race.
In a statement Saturday, Smith cited "historic gains" during the 2012 election and also pointed to the party's focus on beating Scott next year.
"I know I?m leaving a stronger organization,'' said Smith, a former state senator from Alachua County. "It?s time for Democrats to come together and focus on our number one priority: defeating Rick Scott."