Democrats had high expectations when Allison Tant took over the Florida party back in January, but her leadership should be called into question after Allie Braswell pulled out of the state CFOs race only four days after he entered.
Tant took over the state party from Rod Smith back in January and the political winds seemed to be at her back since Barack Obama carried Florida in November while Bill Nelson manhandled Connie Mack. Democrats also chipped away at the GOPs control of the Legislature and defeated two incumbent Republican congressmen. With Rick Scott underwater in the polls, Democrats have high hopes for winning their first gubernatorial election in 20 years.
But Tants leadership failed badly in recent days. On Thursday, when he entered the race, Tant sung Braswells praises as the Democratic leadership rallied behind the new candidate. But Friday news broke that Braswell had filed for bankruptcy three times.
Its an easy catch in a basic vetting process but somehow Tant and the Florida Democrats dropped the ball on an issue which calls into questions Braswells credentials to be state CFO. Over the weekend, while Tant fired away at Scott, Braswell decided to get out of the race, making the announcement on Monday. While Braswell was only in the race for four days, he caused considerable embarrassment for the Florida Democrats.
Florida Democrats can still feel good about their chances against Scott but Braswell was their first major candidate for a statewide office in 2014. By failing to properly vet Braswell, Tant will put any other future candidate, especially those with the partys backing, in a bad spot. While Charlie Crist or Alex Sink or well-known Democrats can probably avoid questions about being vetted, lesser-known candidates can expect questions about their backgrounds and how much information the party had on them.
Braswell was the first candidate Tant took the lead on in backing and she failed badly in the selection and screening process. That cant be encouraging to activists or the partys financial backers. The Democrats who backed Tants bid to lead the state party, like Crist and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, cant be pleased with her first candidate being such a dud.
Democrats still have their chances in Florida next year. Scott is vulnerable and Democrats should be competitive against a handful of Republican congressmen and GOP state representatives. But Republicans remain confident about keeping the state CFO, attorney general and agriculture commissioner under their control and Tants bumbling efforts for Braswell havent helped matters for the Democrats.
If Tant and the state party fumble again, its possible that Democratic candidates in 2014 avoid the party to strike out on their own. Despite backing Tant, Crist has little ties to the party. He only joined at the end of last year after years as a Republican. Crist could easily go his own way if he runs against Scott and not coordinate his efforts with the state party, which could leave down-ticket Democrats in the lurch.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.