A tough assessment of Nan Rich’s campaign resume

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She wants to be Governor of Florida.

A woman who never once faced another Democrat in a primary, and who — with one notable exception — has never fought her way through anything resembling an actual race.

A woman who rode the Wasserman-Shultz coattails into the Florida House and then into a ready-to-go State Senate seat, made possible by the mighty Broward Democratic machine of the early 1990s.

Nan Rich was first elected to the Florida House in 2000 when the District 97 seat was vacated by Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, who was on her way to the State Senate. Nan was unopposed in the primary, and faced Republican Eric Garner in the general election — if to “face” means to walk into a safe Democratic seat with 62 percent of the vote.

For now we’ll skip 2002, since it is the only interesting thing that ever happened on Nan’s watch — though not in a way that bodes favorably for her.

In 2004, Nan was once again unopposed in the primary to assume the State Senate District 34 seat vacated by DWS, who was leaving for Washington.  This was a seat that DWS had won in 2000 with a safe 67 percent of the vote, and which Nan took with 66 percent of the vote against Republican Fabio Andrade.  

That was Rich’s last race. She was unopposed in 2006 and 2010, for both primary and general elections, and had an off-year in 2008.

So what happened in 2002?  Nan was up against Weston City Commissioner Alexander ‘Sandy’ Halperin, a moderate Republican.   She was safe in the polls early-on but he closed the gap and then exceeded her just weeks before November 5.

Desperate (in the words of her then-staffers), Rich got ugly.  Companies were threatened to take down their Halperin signs lest they lose business; and there were run-of-the-mill yard sign snatchings. But it wasn’t working. So Nan jumped on a typo in one of Halperin’s mailers that had wrongly stated he attended Harvard when, in fact, he had taught there as an assistant professor of dentistry.  His various other campaign materials had already portrayed his background accurately, but the mistake (reportedly made by his printer) was enough for Nan to exploit.  

She got an article written in none other than the New York Times (through connections unnecessary to talk about here) about how Halperin was untrustworthy to voters based on his “resume padding”.  The NYT mysteriously never thought to call Halperin for his side of the story.  The “Halperin/Harvard” thing was basically Nan’s only talking point in the race from that point forward.  She blew up the NYT headline on Election Day posters and pamphlets handed out at each precinct. 

Election Day ended with Rich and Halperin tied; and three days later the election was called: she prevailed with 50.67 percent of the vote.  The precincts of District 97, that same year, elected DWS by 62.3 percent to the Florida Senate. 

Here is why this is important.  The District 97 of 2002 looks a lot like the Florida of today.  By voter registration, Democrats only slightly outnumbered Republicans – with about 20 percent of voters registered as Independent.  Despite the fact that nearly every other Democratic candidate captured all Democrats and most Independents during that year in that district, Nan couldn’t hack it against a moderate.   Even when resorting to the kind of personal ugliness generally unacceptable in first world elections.

But I guess a political career can’t come to a close without at least one real race — primary and all. Nan sees 2014 as that year. So let’s let her talk. See what she has to say.  See if she can move the crowds.

And maybe, if she’s lucky, someone will claim Charlie or Rick went to Harvard.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.