The Endorsement Elite: Florida Democrats
The many changes in the presidential primary and caucus calendar have fundamentally reshaped how each party will pick its nominee -- changes that the candidates (and the media) are still trying to figure out.
Today is the first in an occasional series of looks at the five most important endorsements in the states set to hold primaries and caucuses shortly after the traditional lead-off troika of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. We call it the "Endorsement Elite."
Why "elite"? Because not all endorsements are created equal. Every one of the states set to vote between Jan. 29 and Feb. 5 has hundreds upon hundreds of elected officials, labor bosses, cash collectors and other political Svengalis being courted by each of the campaigns on a daily basis. But for this feature, we are aiming to identify the cream of the crop -- the people or institutions who bring a candidate something of real value, whether its votes, money or message.
Since Florida recently moved its primary up to Jan. 29, we figured the Sunshine State would be a good place to start. Below you'll find the five most sought after endorsements among Florida Democrats. They are listed alphabetically not by level of influence; look for our take on the five most influential GOP endorsers next week on The Fix.
Our list is meant as a state-by-state guide to the new world of the presidential nomination fight. But like all good guidebooks, we welcome solicitations derived from personal or professional experience to make our list better. Use the comments section to offer your own top five or even -- perish the thought! -- critique ours.
A final note: This is not an exercise in futility; individuals who have indicated publicly or privately they aren't planning to endorse a candidate won't make our list.
THE ENDORSEMENT ELITE: FLORIDA DEMOCRATS
Bob Graham: While Graham's 2004 presidential bid was never treated as anything more than a novelty at the national level, the former senator remains a powerful force in Florida politics. He is an iconic figure in the state's Democratic Party, having spent time in the state House (1966-1970), state Senate (1970-1978) and as governor (1978-1986). Graham currently leads the eponymous Bob Graham Center for Public Policy, which is based jointly at the University of Florida and the University of Miami.
Kendrick Meek: Meek, who won his mother's Miami-area 17th District when she retired in 1992, is a comer both in Florida and in Washington. He earns a spot on our list thanks to his real-world experience in statewide campaigns. In 2002, Meek was the driving force behind a successful ballot initiative that sought to limit the number of students per classroom across Florida; it was strongly opposed by Gov. Jeb Bush (R). Then in 2004, Meek served as Sen. John Kerry's (D-Mass.) Florida campaign chairman. In other words, he knows the state top to bottom.
Alex Sink: Sink is the lone statewide elected Democrat in the state after Sen. Bill Nelson, and as such is the titular head of the party. But she is far more than a symbolic leader. Sink is one-half of a powerful political couple in the state (her husband Bill McBride was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2002) and won 300,000 more votes in her successful 2006 run for chief financial officer than the party's gubernatorial nominee Jim Davis got in his losing effort.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Wasserman Schultz won the 20th District in 2004 and has been moving up the Democratic food chain ever since. Her district takes in huge population centers in Broward County, which as of 2005 had 1.76 million people living within its borders. Wasserman Schultz herself wouldn't claim to be able to deliver all of these votes to a particular candidate, but her endorsement would certainly give a presidential candidate entree into some critical communities. And Wasserman Schultz has a reputation as a workhorse -- meaning that winning her support goes beyond just appearing on a stage with the candidate once in a while. COMMITTED TO CLINTON
Robert Wexler: Asked about Wexler's influence in Florida Democratic politics, one plugged-in Democrat said the six-term congressman had an organization in "the condos" that couldn't be matched. Those condos house thousands upon thousands of retirees (Wexler's 19th District has one of the highest percentages of Social Security recipients in the nation) who make up a huge and influential voting bloc in the state. So influential are the condos in the political math of Wexler's district and Florida more broadly that President Bill Clinton once referred to Wexler as "Trinchi's congressman" -- in reference to the unquestioned king of the condos Amadeo"Trinchi" Trinchitella. COMMITTED TO OBAMA
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