Liberal Democrats generally dont do well in statewide elections in Florida. Recent Democratic governors and gubernatorial nominees -- Alex Sink, Jim Davis, Bill McBride, Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham, Reubin Askew -- generally tried to portray themselves as centrists. In his various bids for state and federal office, Bill Nelson has made a career of avoiding the liberal label and hes been pretty successful.
As Democrats look to knock off Gov. Rick Scott next year, the only official major candidate seeking the partys nomination is playing up her liberal credentials. In recent days, former Florida Senate Democrat Leader Nan Rich tipped her cards as she continues her long-shot gubernatorial bid -- and her plan is clearly to go left.
Despite throwing her hat in the ring in April 2012, Rich has struggled mightily on the campaign trail. Democrats salivating over the thought of knocking off Rick Scott and winning a gubernatorial election for the first time in 20 years have largely ignored Richs campaign. Furthermore, her fundraising has paled in comparison to her previous state Senate campaigns.
Democrats continue to pine for a major candidate to enter the race -- former state CFO Alex Sink, despite her loss to Scott in 2010; former Gov. Charlie Crist, despite his previous political career as a Republican and running for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation; former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio; and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Meanwhile, Rich is signaling that she is going to run as a South Florida liberal, hoping this will rally Democratic primary voters to her standard.
For example, last weekend Rich went after Scott and Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, on the Medicaid expansion mandated by President Barack Obamas health-care law -- even though Scott and Weatherford were on different sides of the issue.
Two weeks have passed since ceremonial handkerchiefs signaled the end of the legislative session, Rich wrote to her supporters. But not one signal yet that the governor will call a special session to pressure House Speaker Weatherford into passing Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, more than 1 million Floridians are left without health care coverage.
"Clearly, theres no urgency on the part of the speaker or the governor to take action. Maybe, just maybe, thats because both of them are covered by great health insurance plans plans that are heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. In fact, Speaker Weatherford and members of the House only have to pay $8.34 a month for their personal coverage and a piddling $30 a month to cover their entire family.
Noting that Florida stands at the bottom of the nation in terms of uninsured adults and near the bottom in terms of uninsured children, Rich insisted thats unconscionable and continued her attack. She ripped Scott for his lack of leadership, even though the governor supported accepting federal dollars for Medicaid expansion and hammered Weatherford for his stubbornness and shortsightedness.
Florida may lose $51 billion of federal funds (our tax dollars) that are available for the expansion of Medicaid, Rich wrote before calling out Weatherford directly. Mr. Weatherford, its time for you to man up and do the right thing! Put your tea party politics aside long enough to serve the needs of over 1 million uninsured Floridians. Pass Medicaid expansion as it is meant to be according to the Affordable Care Act the law of the land.
Rich promised, if elected governor, to call a special session of the Legislature to tackle Medicaid expansion. Unlike some Democrats who temporize their support of Obamas health-care law, Rich is doubling down on her commitment to that still controversial law.
Nor did Rich exempt Democrats from her attacks on Medicaid. Despite leading Democrats in the Florida Senate, this week Rich swatted at them for backing Sen. Joe Negrons, R-Palm City, Medicaid expansion plan which passed the Senate but had no chance in the House.
Besides trumpeting her support for the presidents health-care plan, Rich is starting to meet with the media and swat at Democrats who could be looking to enter the contest. For example, meeting with the Tampa Bay Times this week, Rich noted that McBride, Davis and Sink were all from the Tampa Bay region and tried to play up their centrist credentials -- but none of them was elected governor.
Of course, some of the leading Democrats looking at running against Scott -- namely Crist, Sink and Iorio -- are from the Tampa Bay region and will try to portray themselves as moderates.
Playing up her liberal views isnt the best general election strategy, but it might help Rich find her niche in the primary. Still unknown to many voters despite her time in Tallahassee and being in the race for more than a year now, she would certainly be to the left of Crist, Sink or Nelson -- and shes clearly shown that she will needle her fellow Democrats if need be.
There are signs that some liberals are starting to drift Richs way. In recent days, the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women signaled it would support her.
Richs best boost, though, could be Charlie Crist, who for the moment is the Democratic front-runner despite only joining the party in December. In his years in politics, Crist has shifted from conservative Republican to a moderate candidate with no party affiliation and now appears to be repositioning himself as a liberal Democrat as he supports same-sex marriage. The only consistency in Crists career has been a desire to run for whatever office is open while generally not focusing on his current duties. Only once in his career has Crist run for re-election and that was to the state Senate. He went from one Cabinet office to another before running for governor and then turning his focus to running for the U.S. Senate.
By playing up her liberal positions, Rich is trying to remind voters she is, for better or worse, a real Democrat, while Crist cant be trusted. Strange to say, for the moment at least, liberal Nan Rich and Republicans firing away at Crist for being an opportunist, will be teaming up to undermine the former governors credibility.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.