Alan Clendenin is back IN the race for Florida Democratic Party chair, and ready to take on Rod Smith

Clendenin says that though he believes that Smith engenders a lot of respect amongst Democrats statewide, his candidacy wouldn't represent the change from the problems the party has endured off and on for over a decade.  "We've got a group of people who are in favor of the status quo," he said of those backing Smith.  "If you look at the big picture, we are moving in the wrong direction in Florida as a party, and if we keep rolling out the same model year after year, we will be doomed as well."

There are others in the party who agree with Clendenin, but some say electing a black or Latino candidate would make an even bigger statement about the party trying to go in a different location.  Clendenin says that blacks and Latinos are currently underrepresented in leadership and appointed positions in the Florida Democratic Party, and that he would fully intend to have those people in important positions if he were to become the party chair.

CL spoke with two black state Legislators from the Tampa area on Saturday, House Representative Betty Reed and state Senator Arthenia Joyner.  Both said that they weren't prepared to comment on a possible Smith-Clendenin race.

Clendenin is from Tampa, the home base of the last three Democratic gubernatorial candidates who have lost elections over the past 8 years.  When asked if he thought there might be a backlash against a figure representing the I-4 corridor, the Hillsborough and Democratic National Committeeman brushed that thought aside, saying that the region represented "ground zero" for all statewide elections.  He said one of the biggest problems coming out of last week's election was the lack of a solid get out the vote effort in South Florida, though in fact that could have been said about Democrats throughout the state, and in fact the country.

CL spoke with Tampa area Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor Saturday at a ceremony celebrating a new health care center in East Tampa opening up.  She appeared to be measuring her comments, saying, "Alan Clendenin is a terrific leader and we need folks to step up in the Tampa Bay area for party leadership.  Rod Smith is simply unequaled in his talents and knowledge of the legislative process...I need to talk to talk with Alan directly, but both of them are outstanding."

Although it appears that Rod Smith may declare his candidacy on Monday to be the next chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, he is absolutely not the favorite of everybody inside the party who has a vote, and one candidate, Hillsborough State Committeeman Alan Clendenin, announced on Saturday that he is back in the race to lead the party going forward.

Clendenin told CL on Thursday that through he thought he might have the votes to succeed current chair Karen Thurman after speaking with Democrats throughout the state, he would step aside for Smith if he was committed to becoming the chair (Thurman officially announced her resignation on Friday).

But Clendenin says that after an extensive phone conversation with Smith on Friday night, he doesn't believe that the former state legislator and gubernatorial candidate will be able to devote his full energies to reenergizing the party, whose ranks were demolished in the midterm election 11 days ago.

Smith intends to continue to try cases at his Gainesville based law firm of Avery & Smith and specifically defend Amendments 5 &6, the constitutional amendments that would make the drawing of legislative and congressional districts fairer, and which is already being challenged in court.

Smith is definitely the establishment choice, and is now being backed by Senator Bill Nelson, outgoing House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands, incoming House Leader Ron Saunders, state Senator Nan Rich, and former chair Karen Thurman.

But Smith's declaration that he will continue to try cases means to Clendenin that he won't be 100% focused on getting Democrats elected in 2012 and beyond, and says that's what's compelling him to re-enter the race.

"We don't need somebody who's not invested 24/7 in the position," Clendenin says.

In comments made to the Palm Beach Post on Friday night, Smith acknowledged that he doesn't want to splinter the party in running for the position.

I want to be a unifier. I don’t want to create division,” said Smith. “This isn’t like a lot of campaigns. This is about trying to make sure that you first do no harm. Right now I’m focusing on trying to convince people that this is the right thing to do for me and for the party but I also remain open to listening to people’s concerns."

But frankly, it is somewhat of a campaign right now, and Clendenin says he thinks the math may be on his side in terms of getting the support for the chair.  "My advice to him was to pull out a spreadsheet, get the weighted votes, call them, and start checking them one at a time and start counting your votes because that's what I did."

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