Politics abhors a vacuum: Candidates line up to lead state political parties

More people are throwing in their hats seeking to chair Florida's Democratic and Republican parties into the 2024 cycle.

Image by Larisa from Pixabay

After the recent triumphant midterm showing from Florida Republicans, both of the state’s political parties are entrenched in power struggles to reshuffle their leadership at the start of preparations for 2024.

On the Republican side, two prominent conservatives are looking to climb the ladder after current Florida GOP Chair Joe Gruters announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection. 

Democrats are engaged in a much more hectic race after the resignation of Chair Manny Diaz, following their party’s worst election showing since Jeb Bush was in the governor’s mansion. Three candidates from across the state and the party’s political spectrum have announced they are running, with several others floating trial balloons.

Here are the candidates, in alphabetical order, who have announced they are running for one of the chair positions, as well as others who could throw their hats in the rings:

Florida Democratic Party

Alex Berrios

A political consultant and co-founder of the voter registration organization Mi Vecino, Berrios announced his candidacy via Twitter. He was also a senior adviser for the Florida Democratic Party. 

His announcement drew the most polarized response from noted political figures. It was positively retweeted by the Lincoln Project’s Rick Wilson and others lauding his experience. On the other hand, state Reps. Angie Nixon and Michele Rayner-Goolsby blasted his candidacy due to his advisory role to outgoing chair Manny Diaz. 

He said in his post that he would bring new ideas to the table: “Because of my years of direct experience, I will hit the ground running and not lose one year as other Chairs do when they start from scratch.”

Rick Hoye

Hoye is chair of the Democratic Party of Broward County, the only South Florida county to not lean red this last election – although Republicans made key gains

In a statement around his announcement, Hoye said he is “uniquely qualified to move our party forward” after its 2022 defeat, just ten years after President Barack Obama won the state for the second year in a row. 

Hoye, Broward Democrats’ first elected Black chairman, previously used his position to campaign alongside Diaz for then-U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings. He said his goal as chair would involve “building a bench to strengthen our party.”

Jeremy Matlow

A progressive Tallahassee city commissioner, Matlow was the first to announce his candidacy in a Twitter thread the same day Diaz resigned. His most recent political outing was dominating his reelection campaign by almost 12 points despite being outraised over 2 to 1

In his thread, he said he was able to win that race due to community organizing efforts, something that Florida Democrats have lagged behind in. 

“We fought back, organized at the neighborhood level and put together a coalition that can win,” Matlow tweeted. “Working together, Democrats can support their local (county executive committees) and lay the framework needed to win statewide.”

Annette Taddeo

Taddeo, a former state senator who just lost a run for Congress by 14 points, announced she is running for chair in a three-minute video posted to TikTok

She had started by running for the Democratic nomination for governor, then switched to a challenge of South Florida U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar when she consistently polled third behind Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried. 

A coalition of 24 Gen-Z activists have already endorsed her. Taddeo was once chair of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and has been long involved in the Florida Democratic Party. In her announcement video, she said her party must fight back against Republican messaging. 

“We have to and must rebuild our brand and fight back against Republican fear mongering and lies with an aggressive year-round multilingual earned media effort that will push back on GOP extremism every day and in every media market,” she said.

Name to watch:

Sean Shaw

Shaw, a former Tampa-area House member and the first Black Democratic nominee for attorney general in the state’s history, has opined on social media about the race after several insiders have speculated on him potentially entering it. 

He wrote that the process should be transparent, thoughtful and take its time. Shaw still has a hand in party politics but hasn’t been in elected office since 2018.  

If he does enter the race, it’ll be a switch from November. When asked by City & State whether he was interested in the chairmanship, Shaw said, “Not at all.”

Republican Party of Florida

Evan Power

The chair of (county) chairs of the Republican Party of Florida and chair of the Leon County Republican Party, Power oversaw massive gains for his party in the historically blue county. 

His local party outraised Democrats 2 to 1 despite being outnumbered 2 to 1, as well as helped flip the only Panhandle state Senate seat that was held by a Democrat. Incumbent Sen. Loranne Ausley was ousted by former Volunteer Florida CEO Corey Simon. 

Power told City & State that he plans on improving on Florida Republicans’ 2022 showing by making local gains like those in his county across the state, in the event that they do not have a top-of-the-ticket pull like DeSantis in years to come.

Christian Ziegler

The GOP’s current vice chairman, Ziegler cut his political teeth in Sarasota County as a county commissioner and state committeeman. His wife, Bridget Ziegler, also is a political power player, serving on the Sarasota County Commission. And she is one of the co-founders of Moms for Liberty. 

Ziegler told City & State that he would assist other state’s Republican parties to improve their apparatus to help in national elections, as well as push for more local political office victories in the fight against Democrats. 

“I want to make sure we have the resources and attention to go after those that attack freedom,” he said.

Name to watch:

Anthony Sabatini

After a failed congressional run, Sabatini was elected the Lake County Republican Party Chair. That makes him eligible to run for state Party Chair. He has not entered the race yet, but many insiders speculate that he will. 

A part of the “America First” movement that has been pushing for leadership changes in the national Republican Party, Sabatini will at least be vocal about who the next state party chair is, judging from his tweets about the leadership battle of the national GOP.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described Evan Power as chair of the Leon County Democratic Party. He's chair of the county's Republican Party.

Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood 

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