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Friday, Oct 24, 2014
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Republicans spar with Democrats over party gatherings


Published:

TAMPA - Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry says he's so eager to see Democratic candidate for governor Nan Rich get her message out that he'll check with his staff about renting a room where she can make a speech at a GOP meeting.

Curry has been using Rich as a cudgel to bash the state Democratic Party and its chairwoman, Allison Tant, who won't provide Rich a speaking spot at this weekend's state party Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner. Tant she doesn't want to open the floor to candidates so the program won't run on too long.

The GOP is even paying for robocalls to Democrats saying they should call the state Democratic Party and "Tell them to free Nan Rich and let her speak."

Democrats say Curry is simply trying to stoke divisiveness in their party by calling attention to a candidate he thinks would be easier for Republican Gov. Rick Scott to beat in 2014 than, say, former Gov. Charlie Crist. So far, Rich is the only declared Democratic candidate.

Curry brought the subject up in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. Asked why he's so concerned about Rich, he said, "I'm perplexed ... she is a respected liberal Democrat that has been a state senator."

Does that mean he'd be willing to let Rich speak at a state Republican Party meeting?

"Our rules prohibit us from extending invitations to non-Republicans," he demurred. "If my rules didn't prohibit it, I'd be happy to."

Then he added that he'd consider renting a room for her to appear at the next state GOP gathering.

"You've given me an idea," he said. "When I get off this call I'm going to talk to my people about that."

As he boosts Rich, Curry doesn't mention that there are three Republicans with current, active campaigns against Scott in the Republican primary. Asked whether they'd get speaking slots at the next GOP dinner, GOP spokeswoman Susan Hepworth replied by email, "There will probably be an event late fall but the planning has not even begun yet."

She wouldn't say how much the GOP is spending on the robocalls, but said they went to 18,000 consistent Democratic voters.

"While our parties may not agree on most issues, we do agree on honoring those in our party who represent its core values," says the robocall, which is clearly identified as coming from the Republican Party. It says Rich "a high-level Democrat and she should be highlighted."

At least some Democrats agree. Rich is less well-known than potential candidates Crist or Alex Sink of Tampa, but has been making inroads among the Democratic base, particularly women and liberals. Democratic officials confirm they've had calls from party activists saying she should get a speaking slot.

But Rich isn't all that crazy about getting support from Curry.

"Lenny Curry looks for any opportunity to attack the Democratic Party," she said by email. "I doubt if Mr. Curry's enthusiasm for me will continue when I am the Democratic nominee for governor."

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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