Theme at Dems Unity rally in Tampa: Throw the GOP bums out of Tallahassee

"We're the party of hope, and they're the party of fear. We're the party that put up a gubernatorial candidate that protects taxpayers, and they're putting up someone known for bilking taxpayers," he continued, in a reference to Scott's troubles with Columbia/HCA, a theme that though ultimately not successful for McCollum, will undoubtedly be a key Democratic party talking point in Florida until November.

And Aronberg got laughs when he said, "We've put up a candidate for governor who's well within the Florida mainstream. On the other side, they've put up a candidate so right-wing he makes Bill McCollum look like Ralph Nader."

He emphasized the unity by applying a Gelber sticker to his jacket (Gelber returned the favor when he took the stage by putting an Aronberg sticker on).

Gelber hit the GOP has been in power too long theme as well, saying, "If you look at this state right now, one group has been in charge for a decade. They have run our public schools into the ground, they have run our health care into the ground, they have tried to take away a woman's right to choose, they have done all the things that Floridians do not want them to do." And then taking a line Barack Obama has used against Republicans recently, said, "It is time for us to take this car out the ditch."

He then described his Republican opponent, Pam Bondi, who has called Gelber an attorney general in the mold of New York's Eliot Spitzer, as someone who will favor big business over consumers. "My opponent has said she is the candidate of choice for the biggest businesses in Florida. She is the candidate of choice for special interests. I intend to be the candidate of choice for people who are fed up with special interests in this state."

Kendrick Meek impressed observers with his victory speech on Tuesday night, and was definitely a better candidate at the end of his tough primary with Jeff Greene than when he was running unopposed, but his speech on Saturday afternoon was a bit flat, and it wasn't helped when he was asked to keep talking before he introduced Alex Sink to the stage.

Sink kept up the anti-GOP narrative when she said she's been in the state capital "just long enough in those short three years, I have lifted up the hood of that engine  and I have analyzed that engine, and I've determined that we need more just a little slight engine tune-up, we have got to have a major engine overhaul."

Sink said she waited while watching the months-long Republican gubernatorial debate to hear any new ideas and didn't hear any. And to those who might be intimidated by the tens of millions of dollars that Rick Scott will surely spend in the next two months to try win the governor's race, Sink told the crowd, "Our grass roots can beat Rick Scott's money, any day," which received large cheers from the crowd of several hundred.

Earlier, Chief Financial Officer candidate Loranne Ausley showed that she will be an attack bull on the campaign circuit. "Are you ready to clean up the mess  in Tallahassee?" she said as she greeted the crowd. "I've got a plan to stop the pay-for-play culture and the business as usual politics that has pervaded Tallahassee....For too long Tallahassee had gone unchecked. A Republican governor. A Republican cabinet. A Republican legislature. .."

The she turned her attention on her Republican opponent for CFO. "Jeff Atwater is the poster child for what is wrong in Tallahassee," she began. "This is a guy who has racked up $35 million in earmarks, 114 rides on the state plane, $40,000 on his Republican Party credit card.  And if that's not enough, when we're tightening our belts and cutting across the board Jeff Atwater can find $48 million for a building that we don't need and $110 million for a private prison to nowhere. We've had enough. Have you had enough?"

Rod Smith made his Tampa debut as the lieutenant governor nominee. Compared to the other speakers and given that he was in the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial campaign, Smith seemed a bit low-key and was brief in his remarks, but he did display the sense of humor he's noted for when he ripped on Rick Scott, saying,  "I had a Sheriff told me yesterday, 'The man who spent $44 million for a $150,000 job ain't going to be able to help the economy." (Scott has said that he actually won't take a salary if elected).

Attorney general candidate Scott Maddox has always been a dynamic speaker, but will he prove a threat to Polk County Congressman Adam Putnam for agriculture commissioner?  "It's time that we put a stop to the special interests feeding troughs in Tallahassee and Washington D.C.!" he bellowed, though wer'e not sure that running against Washington is the ticket for statewide Democrats.  "My name is Scott Maddox. Are you ready to fight? ARE YOU READY TO FIGHT?!" he said with fierce intensity as he exited stage right. "I'm ready to fight for a better Florida, how 'bout you?"

The Democrats look hungry, and they should be. Except for Sink's victory as CFO in 2006, they haven't held any positions of power in Tallahassee since Bob Butterworth left the attorney general's office in 2002, and boast of having their strongest set of candidates in years. That enthusiasm was quite evident, for one day at least in the dog days of late August.

Saturday afternoon at a building inside the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, the second of three scheduled "Unity" events designed to kickstart the general election campaign for the Democratic party's slate of statewide candidates was held. The overriding theme was simple and to the point. As Florida's senior U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said succinctly, "When it comes to Tallahassee, have you had enough?"

Getting a bit of a head start on what appears to still be a divided GOP (though it was officially announced early Saturday that the Republicans will hold their "unity" event this Monday afternoon in Tampa after all), the best lines of the afternoon may have come from the only Democrat on stage who won't be on the ballot in November: vanquished Attorney General candidate Dave Aronberg, who spoke before introducing his former opponent Dan Gelber to the stage.

"We're the party of unity, and they're the party of the circular firing squad," Aronberg said, alluding to the fact that Bill McCollum still has yet to endorse Rick Scott for governor.


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