The center of the political world, at least for Florida’s Democrats, on Saturday was the two-story atrium at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa, an oasis of cool air and sweet smells – the hotel’s signature white tea scent – between busy Ocean Drive and the beach.
At one point or another, virtually everyone in the Democratic political world ventured into the hotel lobby, not just to get from Point A to Point B, but to see and be seen, schmooze and strategize.
The hotel lobby is the unofficial Main Street for the big annual gathering of Florida Democrats, anchored by the big Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner expected to draw some 1,200 people to a nearby ballroom.
Here are updates from the Democrats’ gathering, from the lobby, to the caucus rooms, to the nooks and crannies, to the main ballroom.
The Democrats’ haul
Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant said the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner fundraiser will break a record with the number of people and amount of money raised. She said 1,300 people will pack the ballroom at the Westin Diplomat, and the dinner will raise $850,000.
Last year the party raised $600,000.
Party leaders attributed their strong showing to a hunger among Democratic donors to deny Republican Gov. Rick Scott a second term.
“We have to take him down. That is the focus of this party,” Tant said. “People are so anxious for a change they almost don’t care who the person is. The enthusiasm is incredible.”
Democrats “have had enough and they want a change, and they want Florida to get on a road that’s going forward instead of backward,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. “A lot of people are petrified that the state is going into a ditch and the leadership just isn’t there.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said Scott “has decimated the quality of life for Florida working families.”
“Rick Scott has continuously demonstrated how out of touch he is. And that’s why our event so successful tonight. It’s why we’re going to defeat him next November. It’s why he’s the most unpopular governor in the country and we’re really exited to be here, excited to build off the enthusiasm from the November 2012 election,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Democratic leaders embrace Crist
Florida’s top Democrats said they’re satisfied with the transformation that turned former Gov. Charlie Crist from a Republican to a Democrat – who may become the party’s candidate next near to take on Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
“We welcome anyone who decides that their views and their values line up with the Democratic Party,” she said, before running through a list of actions Crist took as governor that she said demonstrated his true colors: extending voting hours because of long lines in the 2008 presidential election, making it easier for felons who have served their time to get their civil rights restored and getting rid of touch screen voting and implementing paper ballots.
“There are a lot of examples that Charlie Crist has in his record as a Republican that I think he probably decided that he lined up more with our party’s values than theirs and we welcome that.
“We are not, unlike the Republicans, a party that requires a rigid adherence to extreme dogma. We are a big tent. The true definition of a big tent. So we have blue dogs and we have yellow dogs. We have more progressive members and we have conservative Democrats. We all come together around core values and we support a core agenda.”