FAU Setback Unlikely to Hamper Jeff Atwater's Political Future

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: January 13, 2014 11:59 AM
Jeff Atwater

CFO Jeff Atwater | Sunshine State News Archives

Despite not becoming the next president of Florida Atlantic University (FAU), Jeff Atwater remains a heavy favorite to keep his position as Florida’s CFO.

Atwater has a long background in both the private and the public sectors, serving as president, and CEO for Barnett Bank in key areas before leading Riverside National Bank in parts of South Florida.

First elected to the Florida House in 2000, Atwater’s rise in Tallahassee was impressive. In 2002, he defeated Democrat Bob Butterworth, well-known for his service as state attorney general, to win a seat in the Florida Senate. Once in the upper chamber, Atwater propelled up the leadership ladder, eventually serving as Senate president after the 2008 elections.

Setting his eyes on state office, Atwater cruised to the Republican CFO nomination in 2010 with little difficulty, building an impressive war chest and campaign operation. Democrats had a credible candidate in Loranne Ausley who tried to peck away at Riverside National being taken over by the feds and Atwater’s record in the Senate. Nothing worked for her and Atwater destroyed her in the general election.

Since then, Atwater’s name has surfaced as a possible future gubernatorial candidate for Republicans in 2018 or as a possible U.S. Senate candidate. Atwater’s name got some buzz as a possible Republican challenger to Bill Nelson but he closed the door on the idea.

Atwater is 55 and he should have his chances down the road but the FAU decision was a bit of a setback, especially as he didn’t make the final cut even though another politician -- George LeMieux -- did. Future primary rivals like Adam Putnam and Will Weatherford might use the flirtation with FAU against Atwater but it will be close to being forgotten by 2016 or 2018.

In the meantime, while Democrats like Jeremy Ring and Jeff Clemens could entertain the thought of running for CFO with no Republican incumbent, now it’s a different story. Atwater made it clear after he did not make FAU’s final cut that he was interested in running for a second term. With more than $1.1 million already in the bank and the way he dispatched Ausley in 2010, Atwater remains in excellent shape despite the FAU setback.

While he might not be FAU’s next president, Atwater will be a force for Republicans in 2014 and beyond. Despite the FAU setback, Atwater remains a major player in Tallahassee and Florida politics.

Tallahassee based political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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