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Nan Rich seeks Dems' support in race for Florida governor

In the age of Twitter, Nan Rich offers nuanced ideas instead of sound bites. In an era when every election seems to break spending records, she has little cash in her campaign account. In a culture driven by personality, she's more policy wonk.

Rich and her supporters hope none of that matters or — even better, from their perspective — can be turned into advantages. They expect her to win the 2014 Democratic nomination for governor and go on to defeat Gov. Rick Scott, becoming the state's first female chief executive.

It won't be easy. Reflecting critical deficits in money and name recognition, she's discounted by pundits and has received a lukewarm — at best — response from the state Democratic Party establishment, much of which is pining for the expected candidacy of former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat.

"I'm not deterred," Rich said last week after spending an evening with members of the Democratic Women's Club of Northeast Broward.

"In my travels around the state, people are very concerned that the state is going in the wrong direction, and that we need to change priorities, and I am in total agreement with that," Rich said.

She's emphasizing education, child welfare, health care and voting rights and pledges to fight efforts to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the middle class. She said Florida's approach to economic development needs to move away from subsidies to big companies and toward nurturing small businesses and spending on higher education so employers will have a high-performing workforce.

Rich also said the state is wrong to block local governments that want to impose gun laws, shouldn't try to restrict access to abortion services, and the 2011 undoing of the state's decades-old growth management law is "disgraceful. It's like the Wild West right now."

Rich was embraced at the Democratic club, where many were familiar with and approved of the kind of liberal politics — she calls herself "progressive" — she championed during 12 years representing South Florida in the state Legislature. Rich, who lives in Weston, rose to the position of Senate Democratic Party leader before she was forced from office in 2012 by term limits. Earlier she was a national leader in Jewish civic and philanthropic causes.

"She will make a really great governor," said Maggie Davidson, the state Democratic committeewoman for Broward County and president of the club where Rich spoke last week. "We want her in the Governor's Mansion. There is no question she is the best candidate."

The Democratic club appearance shows the potential and the limitations of Rich's campaign. She spent more than an hour speaking, answering questions and mingling with 24 women and eight men. Florida has 4.7 million registered Democrats and a Quinnipiac University Poll in June showed 84 percent of registered Democrats said they hadn't heard enough about Rich to form an opinion.

Rich said she's using such meetings to build a statewide network of grass-roots supporters she'll be able to tap to win the Aug. 26, 2014, primary. Since announcing her candidacy 17 months ago, she said she's been to 210 events in 34 of the state's 67 counties. This weekend she's in the middle of a five-day tour of northern and Central Florida.

In some ways Rich is following Republican Marco Rubio's playbook. As a little-known former state legislative leader, virtually no one gave him a chance in his 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate, which he won. Part of his strategy was months of visits to small political groups around the state.

"The thing hanging over her head is Charlie Crist," said Kevin Hill, a political scientist at Florida International University. The question isn't if Crist will run, but when he'll make his official announcement, said Broward Democratic Chairman Mitch Ceasar. And with high name recognition and relatively easy access to campaign cash, many Democrats see the former Republican governor as the best hope they have to defeat Scott.

"There is a real hunger among people [who say] he is the obvious winner. Let's go with him," said Mark Alan Siegel, former chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party.

But, Siegel cautioned, front-runners anointed by party elites and political pundits don't always win. The relatively small slice of the electorate that will turn out for an August primary will be more politically active and more liberal than average Democrats, Siegel said. As a result, "Rich has a real opportunity."

Hill said it's a mistake to assume the nomination is Crist's. "I wouldn't write Nan off. I wouldn't write her off at all."

Watch a video Q&A with Democratic candidate Nan Rich and find out who's helping her raise money at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics.

aman@tribune.com, 954-356-4550

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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