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Sink considers naming running mate early – Tampa Tribune

By WILLIAM MARCH | The Tampa Tribune

Published: June 17, 2010

TAMPA – Alex Sink may be hoping to boost in her campaign for governor by naming a running mate early, and speculation among her backers is focusing on former state Sen. Rod Smith.

Sink filed her qualifying papers for the office Wednesday morning, and is expected to be the only politically prominent candidate in the Democratic primary.

Her campaign has been contacting key supporters for advice on a candidate for lieutenant governor, a step usually taken later on in the race.

Because Sink is the presumptive nominee, party activists said, there’s no reason she shouldn’t act quickly.

“You get two for the price of one – two people raising money, two people giving speeches and contacting voters,” said Democratic strategist Screven Watson.

Former University of South Florida President Betty Castor, a close Sink political ally, said she didn’t know what candidates were being considered, but, “I know there’s some conversation going on, and the fact that they’re beginning the process now suggests they’re leaning toward an early pick.”

In contested primaries, running mates usually are named after the primary. Florida law sets the deadline as nine days after the primary, which will be held Aug. 24.

Sink campaign spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said the campaign has no time frame for making a choice.

“Alex Sink has just started to reach out to Floridians to talk about the type of person she should be looking for and suggestions for a partner who would help grow the economy and hold Tallahassee accountable,” she said. Jennings wouldn’t comment on possible candidates.

State Rep. Ron Saunders of Key West said Sink campaign manager Jim Cassady called him recently to discuss the subject, and an early choice could let the campaign “cover twice the ground.”

“Rod Smith is the name on everybody’s lips,” Saunders said.

Smith, from Alachua, is a former state senator and state attorney of the Gainesville-based Eighth Judicial Circuit. He narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for governor in 2006 to to Jim Davis of Tampa.

Other names mentioned by party activists and supporters as possible picks were former state Rep. Jack Seiler, currently running for mayor of Fort Lauderdale; state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, who is in a tough primary for attorney general; Panama City Mayor Scott Clemons; state Rep. Keith Fitzgerald of Sarasota; and former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.

Gelber, of Miami Beach, said through a campaign spokesman that he has no intention of leaving the attorney general’s race.

“Folks at the activist level who don’t like primaries are suggesting Dan because they know he’s qualified to serve in statewide office,” said spokesman Christian Ulvert.

Prominent lawyer Neal Roth of Coral Gables, who said he has “had communications with people close to the [Sink] campaign” about the running mate choice, said Gelber could still make a good pick if he loses the primary. Gelber faces state Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres.

Several Sink supporters said Smith, a labor lawyer from Alachua, is attractive because he’s considered a moderate, is a former legislator with a history of working with Republicans, and could attract support from organized labor and from North Florida, a tough area for Democrats.

“It should be someone who can work with the Legislature and work both sides of the aisle,” said state Sen Nan Rich, D-Sunrise. “That helps you get your agenda passed.”

Sink already has strong support in South Florida, sometimes a concern for central or north Florida Democratic candidates, and has less need than a male candidate would for demographic diversity on the ticket, supporters said.

Reporter William March can be reached at 813 259-7761