A Democrat for the Senate: With Alex Sink out, does any Dem stand a chance getting to Washington?

Barack Obama carried Florida, but that doesn't make us a blue state yet. Witness what is happening in the race to succeed Mel Martinez in the U.S. Senate.

Alex Sink didn't surprise me when she announced she will stay in her CFO office, where she can function as the loyal opposition, keep her title as the top elected Democrat in Florida and lay the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid in 2012.

The Senate race would have risked all of that for her. For the other Democrats who will now flood to the Senate primary, the risk is much lower. For many, it is a no-brainer.

The first big name officially in the fray was South Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek, who made it official last week (before Sink's announcement), whacking away at the Republicans in Washington right out of the chute in a speech at his home in North Miami:

"In the last eight years, we have seen incompetence and bad decision-making by too many in Washington. We have sacrificed our children and grandchildren's future by saddling them with unprecedented deficits. We borrow money from foreign countries in order to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people. And now we have corporate bailouts with some CEOs abusing tax-payer dollars, continuing with their multi-million dollar salaries, bonuses, corporate jets — and yet they refuse to be accountable to how OUR tax dollars are being used to bail them out.

"Today, I call on those corporate leaders to not take one dime in salary or bonus until their business is back on solid ground and they have paid the government back every dollar."

Good luck with that request, Kendrick.

Meek is best known for his Jan. 2000 confrontation with Gov. Jeb Bush over Bush's plan to eliminate race-based preferences from Florida's higher-education system. Meek and another black lawmaker staged an overnight sit-in at Bush's office when he refused to meet with them. During the media event that followed, Bush was overheard by reporters telling an aide to "kick their asses out."

Meek has hired former Barack Obama deputy national campaign manager Steve Hildebrand as his top campaign honcho, so he will be a serious candidate. The conventional wisdom here is that since he is black, he will somehow trick voters into thinking they are casting ballots for Obama again. The truth is that Meek will get much-needed statewide name recognition but faces an uphill challenge to gain the nomination.

Same for South Florida state Sen. Dan Gelber, who won lots of brownie points by winning Democratic seats when he was the minority leader in the House of Representatives. But again, his payday will be increased name recognition. Conventional wisdom is that he's too liberal for this purple state.

Other Democrats looking to get in, Congressman Ron Klein from South Florida and Congressman Allen Boyd from the Panhandle, likewise have issues in terms of name recognition.

Tampa Bay Democrats don't seem too interested. Mayor Pam Iorio has downplayed the idea, but with Sink out, she would be the only woman in the race, with administrative experience in a large Florida city and a moderate record. Former Congressman Jim Davis' name keeps coming up but not through his own doing. He seems happy to be lawyering, here and in Washington, D.C.

For the Democrats, that's not a field that you can get wildly excited about at this point. Especially in the face of the possible Republicans, who either have statewide name recognition (Attorney General Bill McCollum and former Speaker of the House Marco Rubio) or have enough personal wealth to make up for it (Congressman Vern Buchanan from Sarasota).

The good news is the Democrats have two years to overcome all those hurdles — and hope that Obama stays popular, solves the economic crisis, brokers a peace treaty in Gaza, stabilizes Iraq and Afghanistan, keeps energy prices low...

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