TAMPA — In an unusually early announcement, likely Democratic nominee for governor Charlie Crist has named Miami businesswoman and Democratic fundraiser Annette Taddeo as his running mate.
Taddeo, of Colombian and Italian heritage, symbolizes the battle between Democrats and Republicans over the increasingly important Hispanic vote. Gov. Rick Scott last year chose Carlos Lopez-Cantera as the state’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor and his 2014 running mate.
Taddeo could also help Crist appeal to women voters, now 54 percent of the state electorate, and provide a South Florida ally against former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, who’s challenging Crist in a Democratic primary in six weeks.
Candidates in a contested primary for governor typically wait until after the primary to name a running mate, as Crist did in 2006. In an interview, Taddeo denied her selection was announced early to help fend off Rich, saying it was because the Democrats need to get to work against Scott and a Republican war chest that may hit a record $100 million.
“When you have $100 million going up against you, I don’t think we have any time to waste,” she said. “I’m a good fundraiser so I’ll help with that.”
Taddeo was born in Colombia to an American father and Colombian mother and lived the first 17 years of her life there.
Hispanics are “the fastest growing demographic in Florida and a very diverse group,” said University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus, a specialist in political demographics. “That diversity within the group makes both parties think they have a shot at that vote.”
Within the last couple of elections cycles, MacManus noted, Hispanic women have come to outnumber Hispanic men among Florida voters.
Announcing his choice at a Miami news conference this morning, Crist emphasized that Taddeo has been a working mother. Both of them referred to her as “a working mom.”
Married to South Florida psychologist Eric Goldstein, Taddeo has two college-age stepdaughters and one young daughter with her husband.
According to an announcement from the campaign, she is founder and chief executive office of LanguageSpeak, a translation services company in business for nearly 20 years.
“I understand the struggles (of) our families as a small business owner because I’ve lived them,” she said in the announcement. “I know what is’s like to live on the minimum wage. I know what it’s like as a small business owner to worry whether you’ll be able to make payroll.”
Taddeo has gone by the hyphenated name Annette Taddeo-Goldstein in the past, but news releases from the Crist campaign use only “Taddeo.” She denied this is an attempt to emphasize her Hispanic heritage.
“It wasn’t anything purposeful,” she said. Her hyphenated name “is just too long,” she said. “It would be too small on the signs. We were actually talking about the font size.”
Taddeo said she still refers to herself in conversation as Annette Taddeo-Goldstein.
“That’s my legal name.”
Taddeo is also a longtime Democratic fundraiser who was involved in the Barack Obama and John Kerry presidential campaigns, and is Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairwoman,
She has been chairwoman of the Women’s Enterprise National Council’s Leadership Forum and the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Miami-Dade County, and now serves on the board of the bipartisan Women’s Campaign Fund.
In 2012, Taddeo ran briefly for chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. That put her into conflict with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who backed Allison Tant of Tallahassee. Taddeo dropped out of the chair’s race and supported Tant, who won the office.
In 2008, Taddeo ran unsuccessfully against Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a Republican-leaning district. She ran unsuccessfully for a Miami-Dade county commissioner’s seat in 2010 — a race with a crowded field of candidates that was won, she said, by a tea party-style candidate.
Taddeo described herself as “a proud progressive” politically, “but also somebody that really thinks people are tired of labels and extremes and that the people of Florida are ready for us to come to the table and come to solutions.”
Alignment with a liberal from South Florida also could help Crist, a St. Petersburg attorney who is weakest among the most liberal Democrats. Some of them lean toward Rich and say they aren’t ready to trust Crist, a Republican when he held public office before including governor and attorney general.
In recent years, Democrats have nominated Tampa-area candidates for governor but all suffered from an inability to generate enthusiastic voter turnout in South Florida, home of the largest concentration of Florida Democrats.
In his announcement, Crist called Taddeo “a remarkable woman and a classic American success story.”
“She will make an excellent lieutenant governor because as a working mom she knows Florida families are struggling to pay their bills, raise their kids, and save for retirement,”
Taddeo said, “As a working mom and a small businesswoman” she is “thrilled to serve with a man who has always fought for Florida’s middle class families.
“We deserve a governor who understands the struggle our families and seniors are facing and works every day to make our lives better – not harder.”
In an interview, Rich called it “presumptuous” of Crist to name a running mate before the primary and repeated her calls, so far rejected by Crist, for a debate.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to pick somebody who would help him in a primary,” she said.
“But people don’t vote based on the lieutenant governor, they vote on the candidate for governor. “Voters are more interested in finding out what his positions are on the issues they care about, and he continues to run away from a debate.”
University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett said the choice of Taddeo “accomplishes a number of goals with one pick, shoring up support with women, Hispanics and South Florida Democrats.”
One possible weakness, Jewett said: “Even though she’s an accomplished woman, she doesn’t seem to have much government experience,” raising a question about whether she can fulfill the lieutenant governor’s only legal duty — taking over for an incapacitated governor.
Still, he added, “She seems to meet the first rule, which is, do no harm – pick someone who won’t hurt you. She seems a safe choice, certainly a fresh face.”