The decision by Annette Taddeo to withdraw from the race for Florida Democratic Party chair over the weekend has turned the race into a two-person battle, with Allison Tant of Tallahassee and Alan Clendenin of Tampa left to vie for the position.
Taddeo threw her support behind Tant, who is seen as a sort of establishment candidate in the election, scheduled for Jan. 26.
"In discussions with Allison Tant it is clear that she would make a phenomenal Florida Democratic Party chair and unite our party because of her passion for Democratic values that we all share," Taddeo said.
Former state Rep. Scott Randolph, who is also incoming tax collector in Orange County, also reportedly endorsed Tant's run for the chairmanship Monday. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who doubles as chair of the Democratic National Committee, are also seen as supporters.
But Clendenin presents himself as a grassroots candidate, and touts a plan that would focus the party on a regionalized approach to campaigning. It also calls for rebranding the party by outdoing the GOP in the messaging wars and building a bench by reaching out to Democrats in community organizations and encouraging them to run for local offices.
Clendenin has been endorsed by the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida and says he has the good relationships with party leaders as well as ties to key constituencies like labor, black Democrats and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Floridians.
"I am the bridge guy," he said.
And while the 2012 elections were largely successful for Florida Democrats -- who returned Nelson to office, corralled the state's 29 electoral votes for President Barack Obama and gained seats in Congress and both houses of the Legislature -- Clendenin said the party can't be complacent.
"The trajectory of the state is still going in the wrong direction," he said.
The key challenge for whoever claims the seat will be avoiding a wipeout like the one Democrats experienced in 2010, when Republican enthusiasm and lackluster turnout among Democrats led to the GOP strengthening its legislative majorities, winning several seats in the congressional delegation and claiming every statewide office on the ballot.
Outgoing Chairman Rod Smith said the pieces were in place and said Republicans have narrowed their base while Democrats solidified theirs.
"I think we've got in place the roadmap for continued success," Smith said. "I think we've identified a new coalition of voters that if we hold them together effectively this party will continue to do very well. If we forget the lessons of the recent past, then we will not."