HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami/AP) – Denied time to address the party faithful at the Florida Democrats annual fundraising dinner in Hollywood on Saturday has worked in former state Senator Nan Rich’s favor.
Rich, in an effort to build support for her gubernatorial campaign, has put thousands of miles on her car driving the state the past year. Thanks to the Democrats’ snub and the Republican Party of Florida, she’s now being talked about more than ever.
The Republicans latched onto the fact that the Florida Democratic Party wasn’t giving Rich a speaking role. State GOP Chairman Lenny Curry was tweeting almost daily to #freeNanRich and let her speak at the dinner. At the same time, Republicans attacked Rich as a liberal Democrat.
Republicans made robocalls and sent out thousands of letters with their demand that Rich be allowed to speak. They even considered inviting her to their own upcoming annual fundraiser.
The media noticed and soon Rich was getting a lot of attention in what’s called earned media, or free publicity.
“It’s amazing the amount publicity,” she said. “Some people have said it’s upwards of a million dollars worth of earned media. I don’t know if that’s an exaggeration, but certainly hundreds of thousands of dollars in earned media. And people who weren’t paying any attention to me are now paying attention to me.”
Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant was unapologetic about not giving Rich time, but she agreed that Rich benefited from the attention.
“Are you kidding me? Nan Rich has gotten more buzz for her campaign, which is wonderful. I am thrilled for her,” Tant said, adding that Curry’s cry to let Rich speak also brought attention to the fundraiser and helped ticket sales. “What we never expected is that Lenny Curry was going to jump into it. And I’m sending him an in-kind contribution report Monday.”
While Rich right now is the only credible Democrat who has announced plans to run for governor, she’s unlikely to remain alone in the race.
Others who attended the weekend’s events were former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who became a Democrat in December, and the 2010 nominee Alex Sink. Both are considering a run, with Crist almost certain to jump in and Sink saying she’s undecided.
“It was a great job,” Crist said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to help an awful lot of people. There are almost 20 million people in Florida — teachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, disabled.”
If anyone had doubts that Crist would be embraced by Democrats, they can put them to rest. He was literally embraced by many as he worked the event, offering hugs, handshakes and posing for photos in a crush of people wanting to meet him.
He says he’s talking to his wife Carole and Democrats as he gets ready to make a decision.
“Carole will tell me when she thinks it’s right,” Crist said.
As for his opinion of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Crist said, “I wouldn’t be thinking about it if I was overjoyed.”
Sink was more low-key, speaking at caucus meetings and engaging with many supporters who stopped to talk with her at the hotel.
While Crist was treated like a celebrity, Sink said she’s still skeptical of his motives by joining the party.
“He’s a new Democrat. All of what we remember about Charlie Crist up to last summer is he served as the Republican attorney general, the Republican commissioner of education and the Republican governor,” Sink said. “We’ve heard him say a lot of things that are not consistent with the values of us as Democrats and I think it’s really important to hear him explain his journey.”
Rich, too, was skeptical.
“It’s just hard when someone changes 180 degrees on just about every position they’ve ever taken,” Rich said. “I understand when people change their minds — they’ve learned something new about an issue and they’ve studied it and something new has come out and touched them — but 180 degrees on every issue is tough to believe.”
(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)