Leaders of the Florida TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party chose Tallahassee Wednesday to promote their 21 candidates across the state and to endorse Rick Scott, the Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Party Chairman Frederic ONeal, who tongue-in-cheek referred to his group as the much-maligned TEA Party, said that his organization -- which had backed Scott in the Republican primary over Attorney General Bill McCollum -- was re-endorsing him in the general election over state CFO Alex Sink, the Democratic candidate, and the rest of the field.
O'Neal praised Scotts experience in business and the fact that he is a political outsider who has never sought or held office.
Whether or not its appreciated does not matter to us, said ONeal, referring to the fact that the Scott campaign, not long after putting it up, quickly removed the TEA Party endorsement from its website.
Noting that his group sent out an e-mail backing Scott to 100,000 Floridians in the final hours of the Republican gubernatorial primary, ONeal said it was very possible that the TEA Party helped carry Scott to victory.
We think there is some corollary about what we did and his eventual victory, said ONeal.
While the TEA Party unveiled its gubernatorial endorsement, ONeal and adviser Doug Guetzloe said that they were looking at three candidates to endorse in the U.S. Senate race -- Libertarian nominee Alex Snitker, Republican nominee and former House Speaker Marco Rubio and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running without party affiliation. They added that there was no timetable for making the endorsement.
ONeal said that the TEA Party would not take into consideration candidates stances on social issues or foreign-policy matters but would instead focus only on fiscal issues.
What we care about is the shape the state of Florida will be in when the next governor takes office, said ONeal.
While agreeing that Florida has not been a state where third-party candidates have done well traditionally, with the exception of Sidney Catts successful gubernatorial bid on the Prohibition Party line in 1916, the party leaders said that they expected the TEA Party to do well in November.
This is an unusual year, said ONeal, who pointed to five incumbent U.S. senators who lost primaries in their bids to win re-election. He insisted that voters were looking for alternatives outside of the two major parties and that the TEA Party would benefit.
Guetzloe noted that 2010 was already producing dramatic results in Florida and conventional wisdom was constantly being proven wrong. He pointed to the rise of Rubio in the Republican primary and the collapse of Crists bid to win the GOP nod as well as Scotts win over McCollum.
All of this is extremely unusual and bodes well for the TEA Party, he said.
The TEA Party leaders shrugged off attacks made by the Republican Party of Florida that their group was helping Democrats -- namely U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson and incoming House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Key West. They passed around replicas of $1,000 bills with Graysons picture and took aim at Saunders.
Ron Saunders couldnt organize a bake sale, said Guetzloe, who added that the TEA Party was focusing on running races in major media markets across the state.
Peg Dunmire, a businesswoman with a background in health care and IT, is running against Grayson and said she was willing to spend $250,000 of her funds in the race. She said the TEA Party was an effective way of channeling voter anger against the two major parties.
You have to be organized to be an instrument of change, she said.
Dunmire discounted efforts from the likes of former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas to bring the tea party movement into the Republican fold.
Its not going to be effective, she said. It will be swallowed up by Republicans.
This is the establishment of a legitimate third party, insisted Guetzloe, who contrasted the TEA Party with other third parties that were built around a single charismatic candidate. Were not like the Perot movement.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.