Florida Political Winners in 2013
Around the State
At first glance, with little in the way of electoral contests, 2013 was a quiet year in Florida politics. But some of the leading actors on Florida’s political stage used 2013 to position themselves for 2014 and beyond. Here are some of the biggest winners in Florida politics from 2013.
Jeff Atwater and Adam Putnam. These two state Cabinet officials continue to make the right moves for future bids for statewide office. While these two Republicans could eventually clash in a gubernatorial primary in 2018, for the moment they are both in great shape. Democrats have yet to recruit major candidates to challenge either of them. Granted, the Democrats should eventually recruit respectable candidates, but the two Republicans will be tough to beat and should be able to use 2014 as a launching pad for future bids.
Lizbeth Benacquisto. After moving to the Senate following her time in local politics in Wellington, Benacquisto is increasingly becoming a star for Republicans in Tallahassee. She serves as the GOP leader in the Senate and is well-positioned for higher office. With Trey Radel in trouble after he was busted for cocaine, Benacquisto could even be a congressional candidate in the near future. More reputations are ruined than made in the increasingly contentious Senate, but Benacquisto’s star continues to rise.
Ron DeSantis. The freshman congressman has made a lot of noise on the national level by leading the fight to remove Eric Holder and sponsoring the House bill allowing Americans to keep their current health care in spite of Obamacare. DeSantis has been a frequent guest on cable talk shows and is keeping a higher profile than most freshmen in Washington. He’s set to be a conservative force in Florida for years to come.
Katie Edwards. Despite being a self-described “blue dog," the freshman state House member is making a splash even though her Democratic caucus is increasingly breaking left. Edwards is solidifying her liberal credentials and raising her profile by being one of the chief supporters of legalizing medical marijuana in the state. At the same time, the business community remains in her corner. Edwards is sharp, personable and increasingly one legislator in Tallahassee to watch.
Mike Fasano. The longtime Republican legislator headed back home to become Pasco County tax collector in 2013, but he continued to be a pain for the GOP in Tallahassee. As prominent Republicans lined up behind a candidate to replace him, Fasano went on the attack and ended up backing Democrat Amanda Murphy. Fasano’s support helped propel Murphy to victory -- and showed, once again, Fasano is the political king of Pasco County.
Matt Gaetz. The Panhandle House Republican had a great 2013 as he gears up to run for his father’s Florida Senate seat in 2016. After impressive fundraising, Gaetz chased Jimmy Patronis out of the race, avoiding what could have been a major and divisive primary. While he still has three years to win the seat, Gaetz has an impressive head start and made the most of 2013.
Gwen Graham. Democrats across the nation have high hopes that Bob Graham’s daughter can knock off Steve Southerland in what should be one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation in 2014. Republicans are doing their best to portray Graham as a liberal, but she has been able to keep pace with Southerland in fundraising. Graham can breathe easier now that Al Lawson is more concerned with being president of Florida A&M than making a third congressional bid.
Mark Pafford. One of the most liberal members of the Florida House made his move in 2013. Starting the year as a minor part of the Democratic leadership, Pafford made the most of his chances to replace Darryl Rouson as the next minority leader. Unlike Rouson, Pafford is expected to be more confrontational in taking on Republicans in the Florida House.
Alex Sink. The former state CFO looked to be a political has-been, especially as Democrats lined up behind Charlie Crist to challenge Rick Scott. Denied a rematch with Scott, Sink appeared done. But Bill Young’s death changed all of that and Sink became the clear choice for Democrats to run for the open congressional seat. With Jessica Ehrlich dropping out, Sink had a clear shot at the Democratic nomination while three Republicans are battling it out in the primary. Sink is a favorite for the special election in March.
Rick Scott. Despite the likes of Jennifer Carroll and Tony Bennett resigning and Adam Hollingsworth facing increasing calls to fall on his sword, Scott had a good 2013. At the start of the year, Scott was losing to Charlie Crist in the polls by double digits with some surveys even showing the governor down by more than 15 percent. Scott’s still down but it’s a lot closer, with some recent polls showing it within the margin of error or low single digits. Scott continues to bring in money and the unemployment rate continues to drop, giving the governor the opportunity to showcase his economic record. At the halftime of his term, Scott was being blown out. As his term enters the fourth quarter, Scott is trailing by a touchdown and is clearly back in the game.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.