Alex Sink, Rod Smith to make duo debut Thursday

Running mates: Alex Sink and Rod Smith

Call it the yawn of a new era (take two), or maybe call it sound centrist strategy. Alex Sink will take her new running mate Rod Smith out for a spin tomorrow at their official coming out party, but no doubt the duo will also get a road test at the Obama-included Democratic Party fundraiser this afternoon.

The pick of Smith is getting Sink some fresh media attention, and a source told me today that one factor in Smith’s selection is his fundraising ability. But I for one continue to scratch my head at this ticket — both in their 60s, both more North Florida than South Florida friendly, and both leaning to the center-right. Then again, maybe that’s why I write about politics instead of practicing it.

From the Crowly Report, the Sink press release:

“The most important thing I was looking for in a lieutenant governor was someone with integrity and who cares as deeply about Florida as I do,” said Alex Sink. “As a former prosecutor, Rod knows how to root out corruption and he will be a strong partner to clean up the mess in Tallahassee. I am proud to have Rod Smith join me as we stand up for the priorities of Floridians and fight for the future of our state.”

“Alex has the decades of real world experience we need to get our state back on track and I am honored that she selected me to join her as her Lieutenant Governor,” said Rod Smith. “Like Alex, I was raised on a family farm – we both know the value of hard work and family, and have a deep love of Florida. I spent my life standing up for working Floridians and protecting our communities, and I share her commitment to integrity and service. I look forward to working alongside Alex – together we will bring the common-sense, problem solving approach needed to move our state forward.”

And from the Times/Herald, the background:

JACKSONVILLE — Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink offered a glimpse into her decision-making style Tuesday when she confirmed that she has chosen former state Sen. Rod Smith as her running mate.

The selection, which comes a week before the primary when most of the media attention is on the bitterly fought Republican primary, is both conventional and tactical but, perhaps most importantly, it is safe.

Smith, 60, a lawyer and former Alachua County state attorney, brings with him name recognition in the state’s most conservative areas and an ability to work with the Republican Legislature.

Smith prosecuted serial killer Danny Rolling in Gainesville, solved an unsolved murder in Pensacola, and as a labor lawyer early in his career represented police and firefighter unions. He earned a reputation as a garrulous and articulate lawmaker who worked as a consensus builder during his six years in the state Senate representing Gainesville.

So enamored by Smith and his eloquence, former Republican Senate President Jim King picked him to deliver one of two eulogies at his memorial service. King died of cancer last year.

Smith ran a failed campaign for governor in 2006, losing the primary to former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. As a candidate, he lost the crucial I-4 corridor but won the vote-rich counties of Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

And now for the “but” …

Smith’s losing bid for governor, however, is ripe with vulnerabilities that are likely to carry into Sink’s campaign.

For one, Smith has made a career in government, while Sink likes to call herself an outsider. After serving as state attorney for eight years, he served in the state Senate from 2000-2006 and registered to lobby the Legislature the last two years.

In particular, Smith’s connections to U.S. Sugar are likely to come under scrutiny because they poured at least $2 million into political committees that launched nasty attacks against his opponent.

Smith’s voting record could also become fodder for opponents. He supported a tax increase and wanted to restore the intangibles tax to pay for higher teacher salaries.

Republicans were quick to seize on Sink’s selection. Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Katie Gordon Betta said Sink is “embracing a running mate whose promises to raise taxes were even rejected by his own party four years ago.”

Bottom line: boring doesn’t move the infrequent voters. Sink is now going to have to rely on Florida Democrats’ usual (and usually losing) strategy of getting out seniors and supervoters. And she’s going to have to work overtime to convince liberals in the southeastern part of the state that it’s still worth getting excited over. As for black voters? Well, let’s just hope the Democratic or Independent Senate candidate can make it happen there.

All in all: this one gets a “meh…”

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