Washington Prowler

Losing Florida Again

Democrats are going quietly this time. Just like the GOP in Illinois, where Speaker Hastert detects treachery.

By 7.23.02

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PACKING IT IN
With Jeb Bush seemingly locked in to win a second term as governor of Florida, and the national Democratic Party having seemingly given up on beating him, it's no surprise that the Florida Dems' annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner last Saturday night at the Broward County Center for the Performing Arts was a comparatively downbeat affair.

Democratic political consultant James Carville started the evening off with an insult-laden diatribe against Jeb Bush, calling him a bilingual liar, among other things. The insults were met with tepid to warm applause from the announced crowd of 1,500 Democratic loyalists. "But there were a lot of no-shows," says a Miami-based Democratic state party fundraiser. "I was told there were at least 200 no-shows, which is a pretty big number.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt was the keynote speaker and while he tried to put a good face on Democratic hopes in Florida, his speech was filled with gaffes. At one point, he mentioned two of three announced candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Janet Reno and Bill McBride, but left off state senator Daryl Jones, who remains in the race. From the podium Gephardt then apologized to Jones for the slight.

Gephardt told the audience that the party stood a good chance of taking back the House in the fall, and could point to several competitive House races in the Sunshine State. But he failed, for good reason, to mention the campaign of former Orlando cop Eddie Diaz, who is running against Republican Rep. Ric Keller. When given a spotlight at the state party convention last April, Diaz was being touted by the state party and by the national party as someone who could knock off Keller, But according to an embarrassing report in the Orlando Sentinel last week, Diaz has raised less than $130,000 for his race, and has received not a dime from the Democratic Party.

"The national party has cut and run down here," says the Miami Democratic fundraiser. "They've given up on the state. They tried to talk Reno out of running, but couldn't persuade her. They could have tried to put up a respectable candidate against Katherine Harris, and they didn't even try."

BIG JIM AND LITTLE JIM
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert blew a gasket when he heard that former Illinois Republican Gov. James Thompson and his Chicago-based law firm, Winston & Strawn, threw a fundraiser last week for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Rod Blagojevich. "He was not happy," says a House leadership staffer, of the speaker's disposition.

That's due in part to the long troubled campaign of Republican candidate for governor Jim Ryan, who is trailing in the polls and recently shook up his campaign staff for the fall push. "That fundraiser was just one more little thing on top of a bunch of other things that explain why we're having trouble," says a Ryan volunteer in Chicago. "If a fellow Republican won't go the distance, then what does that say?"

Hastert has taken a personal interest in the fortunes of his home state, and has expressed frustration at the condition of the Illinois GOP in , where Republicans are trailing in every executive branch campaign, not to mention in the fight for control of the statehouse.

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