In Tampa Saturday night at the Doubletree Hotel off of Westshore, over 300 Democrats ponied up for the Hillsborough County Kennedy Graham dinner, and the headline speaker was Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the party's gubernatorial candidate this fall.
Her appearance came just hours after a story questioning her campaign so far appeared on the Web site of the St. Pete Times, written by political editor Adam C. Smith, that laid out its premise from the initial paragraph:
Veteran political pros and Democratic activists across Florida increasingly fret that the woman once viewed as a sure winner for governor is proving to be a hypercautious candidate without a potent message or viable political operation.
Speaking to CL before she addressed her hometown fans, Sink responded to one charge laid out in the article, that she is not making enough contact with the grass roots of the party. She says any problems in her campaign are due to the fact that, unlike her likely Republican opponent, running for office is not something she's that familiar with.
Well, I think we have to remember that Ive only run for office once in my whole life four years ago, and Ive been serving as the states CFO. Its not a very high profile position. The important thing is that as we go through this year, were starting to get into campaign mode and I have been traveling extensively around the state, but I have a lot more hands to shake before this thing is all over.
According to the last poll taken by Quinnipiac University last month, McCollum has a 41-31% lead over Sink, with 25% of the public undecided. Although there is still nearly 10 months away from the general election, the consensus among many political analysts months ago was that the Sink/McCollum matchup favored the Democrats, who have run Tallahassee since Lawton Chiles' reign some 12 years ago.
But Sink has at times been criticized for her failure to publicly stake out positions on key issues (such as the hot talk last summer and fall about a "public option" in a health care bill). But she seemed eager to start getting more aggressive on Saturday in beginning to lay out the stark difference between herself and McCollum.
"Its important for people to understand the difference between the two candidates, and the voters are going to have a really clear choice in this campaign, " she said. "Theyre going to choose between a career politician and the status quo, or they can choose someone with a lot of real world business experience, and Im going to bring a whole new approach to how we rebuild our economy."
McCollum is an extremely experienced lawmaker and campaigner. After calling it a day after serving 20 years in the House of Representatives from 1980-2000, McCollum is running for his 4th statewide office in the past decade. But with that long record are a lot of votes that can picked apart and criticized, and the state party seems eager to do that.
For example, on the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday last month, the Florida Democratic Party sent out emails blasting McCollum for voting against authorizing that that holiday should ever take place.
Recently, McCollum knocked Sink as being a "National Democrat"(a charge he reiterated in a speech in Palm Beach County Saturday night). When CL asked Sink if she knew what exactly McCollum meant by that, she laughingly said she didn't, before adding, "I dont want to engage in all of this partisan bickering. I think what Floridains are looking for is solutions. And Ive been a problem solver my whole life and Im going to go to work for the people of Florida."
When asked how she might change around the culture of Republican rule in Florida, which has seemed to want to deal with a changing world and severe economic downturn by doing things to help out developers (such as S.B. 360 signed by the Governor last year that environmentalists were outraged by), Sink said, "In the 3 years that I[ve been there Ive seen enough. And I think its about time to have a Governor whos gonna hold those politicians accountable in Tallahassee . We need a stronger foundation. We just have a foundation built on sand. People just looking for growth and the next get rich quick real estate bubble and were the sunshine state, why cant we be the sunshine state the #1 state to capture the power of solar and renewable energy. We can do all of these different things, weve got so many assets so many good things going for us and we need a style of leader its not about what we need to do , lots of people know what we need to do, the question is who is capable and has the experience to get the job done. And thats me."
Sink will also be the featured speaker when the Pinellas County Democrats have their annual fundraiser on February 27.