At the End of the Day It's Nan Rich Who Embodies Character
Around the State
You won't find Nan Rich using the "L" word prematurely and neither will I.
Whatever the numbers after the final count in Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary -- in terms of principles and persistence and downright graciousness -- the former Senate minority leader cleaned everybody's clock in 2014. Every candidate in every race.
It's way past time I fired back at Democrats who accused me and Sunshine State News of playing up Nan in columns, stories and other blog posts to weaken Charlie Crist or strengthen Rick Scott.
It so happens I've been as big an admirer of Nan's as any supporter in her camp. And if anything I wrote about her hurt Charlie, it's only because the contrast in their characters is unbelievably stunning and I called attention to it.
For two years I watched Rich's party leaders abuse her -- starting in 2012 by virtually ignoring her candidacy announcement, as if she'd somehow insulted them by jumping into the race, to 2014 when they stomped on her like grapes in a Tuscan tub.
Rich, as I have pointed out, is no johnnie-come-lately on the blue team. She did more to earn party respect in 20 years than all her tormentors put together. Read her bio. No wonder Charlie Crist was such a tough sell to Rich's long-time friends Bill and Hillary Clinton, when the Clintons arrived in Miami for a Democratic fundraiser earlier this year.
Having done their best to blend her into the woodwork -- to lift not a finger to push her campaign statewide -- they disparaged her lack of name recognition and paltry fundraising (by July, $11.3 million for Crist and $900,000 for Rich).
Then they sicced their goons on her supporters -- loyal Democrats all -- threatened to have them shunned or otherwise punished for not playing follow the leader before the primary.
Most of all, Rich wanted one thing: a televised debate with primary opponent Crist. Several debates, preferably. She never got one.
Rich was sure she could win going toe to toe with a candidate who stumbles over his policies and can't remember all the flip-flops. It always seemed to me party leaders and Crist's campaign team both feared their chosen candidate would slip and fall, make far-left promises Scott's people could have a field day with -- and, of course, lose the debate to the lifelong Democrat, boosting Rich's name through the roof.
As a result, Crist barely acknowledges her, and when he's forced to answer a question about her, says he's "too busy focusing on Rick Scott" to think about a debate.
Through more than two years of adversity, buoyed by a strong core of grassroots supporters, Nan Rich puts up with all this. She's been hanging in and hanging on with unspeakable grace and aplomb, moving daily from town to town, speaking mostly to small gatherings, trying as hard as she can to use the last of her money wisely.
She and I have spoken many times on the telephone and once face to face. I've heard in her voice on various occasions disappointment, resolve, hope, humor, excitement for the future of Florida. You would think somewhere along this epic journey I would have heard Nan Rich express bitterness. Certainly if anyone has a right to talk a little trash, she does. But she never has. Not even once.
Rich's class and character, frankly, is inspirational. She says she will support the Democrat who wins Tuesday's primary, no matter what. If it's Charlie Crist, I wish she wouldn't, but this is Nan Rich we're talking about here. Loyal Democrat to the end. "I would work, obviously, to have a Democratic governor after 16 years in the desert," she told the Sun Sentinel newspaper. The last Democrat to occupy the governor's office left office in 1999. And, by the way, that governor -- Buddy MacKay -- endorsed Rich.
Nan Rich's class and character is what I'll take away from the 2014 primary.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.