Senate Race Starting Gun

Cong. Kendrick Meek– in.  St. Sen. Dan Gelber, near-certain to enter the fray next week.  Cong. Alan Boyd, pondering a run for Senate.  State CFO Alex Sink, saying she’s doing due diligence, promising a decision soon, chuckling that the tension is killing her.  Cong. Ron Klein might also be interested.

And that’s just the Democrats.

Meek was first to announce.  He’ll have the backing of Bill Clinton, he said, and it appeared that one of Clinton’s financial angels is on board already.  Hugh Westbrook, who made a fortune in hospice care and was a six-figure political donor last year, was in Meek’s home just prior to his announcement.

Meek steadfastly refused to put a price tag on his Senatorial bid.  Gelber estimates a good primary run will cost $4-5 million.

Meek insisted that Barack Obama’s Florida victory was not a big factor in his decision to run.  He claimed Floridians have been ready for some time to elect diverse candidates, though Obama was the first African-American ever to carry the state.

Obama’s Florida campaign-meisters will face off against each other in this Senate contest.  Meek said he’s hired Steve Hildebrand– who was National Deputy Director of  Obama’s campaign– to strategize his senate campaign.  Hildebrand was dispatched to Florida during the fall, and teamed with State Director Steve Schale to put the Sunshine State in the Obama column.

Schale, meanwhile, is likely to run Gelber’s campaign.  He teamed with Gelber in 2006 , engineering a seven-seat pickup for the Democrats in the State House of Reps.

If  all possible contenders get in, this is a race that could be won with 30% of the vote, or even less.  Remember, there’s no second primary.

Each candidate would have clear strengths.  Boyd’s a panhandle blue-dog Democrat.  Sink’s a woman from the I-4 corridor (she’d be Florida’s second female Senator ever).  Meek would dominate the African-American vote.  Gelber and Klein would run strong with South Florida’s Jewish voters.

The Republican field– now that Jeb Bush is out of the picture– could be equally crowded.  Former House Speaker Marco Rubio is a near-lock to run, having told associates that if Jeb was out, he ‘d be in.

Others eying a bid–Attorney General Bill McCollum, who’d be making his third try for Senate;  Cong. Connie Mack III, hoping to succeed his father in the Senate; ex-House Speaker Allan Bense; House Majority Leader Adam Hasner; Sarasota Cong. Vern Buchanan.

It’s pretty wide-open on both sides, one reason why the declarations of candidacy have already begun.

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