LAKE MARY, Fla. (AP) — Long-time fundraiser Allison Tant was elected chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party on Saturday and immediately set her sights on defeating Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Tant, of Tallahassee, defeated Tampa-area activist Alan Clendenin, 587 to 448. In a show of unity, Clendenin was then elected vice chairman and the pair stood grasping hands over their heads.
“We are going to beat Rick Scott,” Tant said to loud cheers. “We’re going to turn this party into a powerhouse of winning elections, community by community.”
Tant was backed by Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, and Sen. Bill Nelson, the state’s top Democratic elected official. She replaces former Sen. Rod Smith, who took over the party after a disastrous 2010 election for Democrats.
Tant is married to lawyer Barry Richard, who was hired by Republican George W. Bush to help secure his 537-vote Florida victory during the 2000 presidential recount.
Tant’s challenge will be to prove that Democrats’ success last November wasn’t just due to President Barack Obama’s campaign machine. Besides Obama’s Florida victory, Democrats elected four new congressmen and Sen. Bill Nelson easily won re-election against Republican Rep. Connie Mack. Democrats also made gains in the Legislature, defeating enough Republican incumbents to take away the GOP’s supermajority. It was the party’s most successful election in years.
In Smith’s final address to the party, he boasted of the party’s 2012 success, pointing out in particular the defeat of Congressman Allen West, an outspoken tea party favorite, and state Rep. Chris Dorworth, who was set to become House speaker in 2014. He acknowledged that the Obama campaign helped other Democrats on the ballot, but he noted Obama received fewer votes than he did four years earlier.
“And yet we had enormous pickup,” Smith said. “That is the critical work of our staff, and your staff, your people and your friends and neighbors who worked very hard to make this a great year for the Democratic Party.”
In her nomination speech, Tant said she wanted to take the energy from last November and build on it for the next election.
“Our journey’s not complete. We have in Florida much to do and we know all too well how steep our path is,” Tant said. “We’re going to have to work to outraise, outorganize and outwork the GOP. We’ve done it before, we’re going to do it again ... We’re going to stop Rick Scott, we’re going to increase the number of Democrats in the state house and on our Cabinet and we are going to do this together, unified and as a family of one.”
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