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That’s why last week’s announcement that representatives from those three counties are backing Clendenin was a possible game-changer, and prompted the Tampa Democrat to declare publicly that he would be the next chair. Not so fast, countered Allison Burke Morano, a vice chairwoman of the state party. She says that any “official” count right now is incomplete, because the weight of each vote based on the 2012 election hasn’t been recalculated and distributed (if that sounds complicated, it is).
Though the electorate is a select group, general interest is sky-high, and the battle is playing out in political blogs. None have been bigger cheerleaders for Clendenin than the South Florida-based Political Hurricane, which broke a story in December alleging that Tant had lobbied in 2000 for ChoicePoint, the parent company of DBT, the infamous firm hired by then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris to purge felons from the voting rolls. Tant denied the allegation to the Miami Herald, and was backed up by Martha Barnett, a former colleague at Holland & Knight.
Critics of Tant also point to the fact that she has made donations to over a dozen Republicans over the years, and that her husband, Tallahassee attorney Barry Richard, represented George W. Bush in the 2000 recall in Florida.
Speaking to CL last week, Tant said she had had enough of the “outright lies told about me.”
“I have been unfairly hit about my husband, I have been unfairly hit about my former law firm… They put out a lie that is absolutely incorrect about the voting purge issue.”
Tant also bristled at Clendenin’s charge that she’s the candidate of the status quo, calling it laughable. “He’s been part of this whole insider Democratic party that’s prevented reform from happening. It seems like if you’ve been inside you could make some changes, but those changes haven’t been made.”
One change that Clendenin has been accused of not supporting is the inclusion of marriage equality in the state party’s platform when he chaired the platform committee, a charge that Clendenin, who is openly gay, bitterly denounces.
“I was the chair of the committee, not the dictator of the committee,” he avers, indirectly accusing Tant supporter Susanna Randolph of fanning that particular story. “Even though she knows that’s inaccurate and a lie, she keeps on saying I came out in opposition to marriage quality.”
For her part, Randolph says all she knows is that while President Obama and the DNC were coming out in support of same-sex marriage, the FDP stayed silent, at a time when Clendenin controlled the group. “For whatever reason that was, I think a lot of folks talk about [a lack of] leadership.”
Tant’s campaign manager, Christian Ulvert, also doesn’t think much about the complaint that Tant gave financial contributions to Republicans in the past. “It totals a few hundred dollars, compared to more than $35,000 that Allison herself has personally contributed to Democrats.”
Chris Mitchell is the Hillsborough Democratic Executive Committee chair, and a strong supporter of Clendenin. He dismisses the notion that Allison Tant will be a rainmaker, saying the same thing was heard of FDP chairs Karen Thurman and Rod Smith, but they didn’t have a plan. He says Clendenin does.
“The idea that we can just bounce from one person to another and that’s the whole fundraising apparatus is absolutely crazy … If we have a plan, if we have a track record, and if we’re showing progress… that will outlast whomever the chair is.”
Mitchell also says it’s absurd that party officials like Scott Arcenaux are “pounding their chests” after last fall’s election result. Referring to the fact that the Dems had 48 seats in the state House in 2008, 39 in 2010, and now 44 in 2012 shows that “we’re not really making any progress.”
But Mitchell’s predecessor as Hillsborough DEC head, Pat Kemp, says she thinks Clendenin is the wrong choice to lead the state. “I’ve never seen him do door-to-door stuff or being involved at all at the grassroots level,” says Kemp, who worked alongside Clendenin for four years and is one of the few local Democrats willing to speak out against him. “That’s not something I would associate with Alan. He was much more of a person wanting to be involved in the other kinds of roles at the party, but not grassroots, in terms of where he puts his hours.” She also questions his bona fides on progressive issues, saying he was the only member of the Hillsborough DEC who didn’t support a public option when the health care reform bill was being debated in Washington.
Several other Tampa-area Democrats told CL off the record that they like Clendenin personally, but think it would be bad for the party if he were elected. One local Democrat with knowledge of state party affairs says the party will end up bankrupt. “The doors will close in three months, and we’re going to have to open up super PACs to run the campaigns. The party will cease to exist as we know it.”
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