Florida's weird race for Democratic Party chair just got a little weirder

Florida's weird race for Democratic Party chair just got a little weirder
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Hampton, Florida.

Beyond a few gas stations and a nearby prison, it's a bit lacking in amenities — unless you get a kick out of speeding tickets.

But for longtime Democratic activist aspiring state Democratic Party chair Alan Clendenin, the area, located inside Bradfrod County, had a key perk: an opening for local party chair.

It's the latest twist in the ongoing saga that will ultimately determine who will lead Florida's Democrats in the wake of a few bruising election seasons and amid an ongoing battle between the state's moderate and progressive wings.

You see, in order to be eligible to run for chair of the Florida Democratic Party — a post outgoing chair Alison Tant recently vacated after three years — one has to be chair of their party-level county. In order to be chair of a county-level party, local party membership has to vote you in.

Clendenin, who previously hailed from Tampa, lost the race for Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair two weeks ago. He lost the race after is was determined that nonpartisan elected officials who are members of the DEC could not vote, a move he said was intent on making him lose.

In other words, he was S.O.L.

...Until he realized there was an opening a few hours away and that all he had to do was move to a town with 488 people.

The day after he lost in Hillsborough, according to Tampa Bay Times columnist William March, he started to rent a home in Hampton, where he has some friends. 

Then, on Monday night, he ran for Bradford County DEC chair — and won.

It was an extreme move for the retired air traffic controller who unsuccessfully ran for Hillsborough School Board and lost in 2016, but he insisted he didn't break any rules.

The election for state party chair is Jan. 14.

Clendenin will probably be up against whoever wins Tuesday's Miami-Dade DEC chair elections. 

In the running there are wealthy developer/relative newcomer Stephen Bittell and State Sen. Dwight Bullard.

While Bittell has endorsements from a pair of major labor unions, Bullard is favored among progressives and has even gotten backing from Our Revolution, a group associated with Bernie Sanders.

That race clearly has parallels to moderate-vs.-progressive dynamic that has played out at the state level in Florida for years.

With his reputation of gutsy moves in the Republican-dominated State Legislature (proposing everything from a fracking ban to legalizing recreational marijuana), progressives think Bullard would offer a fresh approach to getting Democrats elected by unifying the party under a more progressive banner.

They fear someone like Bittell, on the other hand, would stick with the same ineffective approach they've been using for years: recruiting moderates and former Republicans for state-level positions (Patrick Murphy against Marco Rubio for US Senate, Charlie Crist against Rick Scott for governor), ignoring or pushing out the bold progressives in Democratic primaries, then losing the general election because said moderate/former Republican was too heavily managed/scripted/didn't really stand for anything.

Clendenin, meanwhile, said if he's elected Jan. 14, he'd consider "a top-to-bottom revaluation and realignment," including a possible movement of the state party headquarters from Tallahassee to a more centrally located city like Tampa or Orlando.

Both are a long way from Hampton, though.

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