She won 587 votes to Clendenin’s 448. The two stood together in a show of party unity.
“Thank you, Alan Clendenin, for making me a better candidate,” Tant said.
Tant’s win spared Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson a measure of embarrassment. Both pushed hard for Tant. They wanted her to lead the party because she knows how to fundraise. And they need money, truckloads of it, to unseat Gov. Rick Scott in 2014.
“We are going to have to work to out-raise, out-organize and out-work the GOP,” Tant said. “We’ve done it before. We’re going to do it again.”
But they haven’t done it during a governor’s race since 1994, when incumbent Gov. Lawton Chiles beat challenger Jeb Bush.
Ever since that election, though, Republicans took over the entire Legislature. Bush then won the governor’s mansion in 1998 and Republicans now control every statewide elected seat based in Tallahassee. Nelson is the only Democrat elected statewide.
But President Obama’s re-election in Florida and nationwide has Democrats feeling stronger than ever in recent years. He’s the first Democrat to carry Florida twice since 1936. Also, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has terrible poll numbers.
Democrats know they have a problem: Their voters show up in outsized numbers in presidential election years, but often get out-voted during governors’ races.
“Can we get them to show up in off year elections? Can we get that same energy in off year elections?” Rod Smith, presiding over the election in his last act as chair, asked the crowded room of Democrats.
“I don’t know about you all, but I wouldn’t mind attending something I’ve not been to in a long, long time – and that would be the inauguration of a Democratic governor in this state,” Smith said. “Rick Scott has done his part for us. His work alone won’t be sufficient to get us elected. But it should give us a running start.”
Annette Taddeo, Miami-Dade County’s Democratic chairwoman who nominated Tant pointed out that Scott also has prodigious personal wealth.
“One number should worry you: $70m,” she said. “That’s how much Rick Scott spent in 2010.”
Actually, Scott spent millions more of his own money.
The Democratic chair race was unusually bitter – not between Tant and Clendenin, but between their supporters.Democrat attacked Democrat behind each other’s back and on blogs. Some tried to block others from voting in the chair race.
Smith refused to block Democrats from voting if they had been certified previously.
“I will not tolerate any effort at voter suppression,” he said in a letter.
On the final day, Friday, liberal activist Susannah Randolph rebuked another Democrat by email when he accused another of fraud. Randolph, a backer of Tant along with husband and Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph said that tensions were so high that someone taped a sign on her office door that said “Beware of Bitches.”
Clendenin had widespread and early grassroots support. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the institutional support of Tant.
Before the vote, Clendenin sought to make the race a contest between the rank-and-file and the elite.
“Does our party belong to a group of Tallahassee insiders, consultants and lobbyists or does it belong to us?” he asked.
After he lost, Clendenin was elected vice chair and took the loss with grace. He hugged Tant and then held her hand high.
“Make no mistake, GOP, this team’s coming to get you,” Clendenin said.