When Florida Democrats hold the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Hollywood this weekend, the party says its annual fundraising soiree will bring in what is believed to be a record amount of campaign money. It could also see a record amount of fuss.
Party leaders aren’t saying exactly how big they expect the haul to be from the dinner, though one spokesman said it would come in at more than $250,000 above earlier installments. In all, about 1,000 guests are expected to attend the scaled-back event.
“The reason we’re able to do so much is because Democrats are remarkably enthusiastic to defeat Rick Scott next year,” said Joshua Karp, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.
It is that scaled-back aspect, though, that has drawn an outsized amount of attention during the past few weeks. Only four speakers are scheduled to address the gathering: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the party’s only remaining statewide elected official; U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who doubles as national party chairwoman; state party Chairwoman Allison Tant; and keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who is viewed as a rising star in the party.
Notably absent from the list is former state Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich, the party’s only high-profile candidate who has announced for the 2014 gubernatorial race. The party’s other potential candidates, including Nelson, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist and 2010 nominee Alex Sink, the former state chief financial officer, have yet to say whether they will run.
“The decision this year was to have a streamlined program,” Karp said.
For years, some attendees have grumbled about the length of programs, which often include a series of Democratic officials and candidates taking the stage. Karp said the party is shooting for the dinner to last no longer than an hour and a half.
But Rich protested the decision to leave her off. She said Thursday she still plans to attend the dinner but she should be allowed to speak.
“To me, this is a perfect opportunity for an active candidate for governor to talk to a thousand activists from across the state,” she said.
Her quest to speak has drawn an unlikely ally: Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry, who has used Twitter and a series of press releases to call for Rich to be allowed to make some remarks. According to a report from the Tampa Bay Times-Miami Herald’s Tallahassee bureau, the party also made a limited number of robo-calls to South Florida Democrats.
“While Senator Rich and I might not see eye to eye politically, she has a long history of leadership in public service and deserves five minutes of speaking time as the only announced gubernatorial candidate in your party,” Curry wrote to Democrats in an open letter as part of the campaign.
Democrats have shrugged off Curry.
“I doubt his enthusiasm will continue when I become the Democratic nominee for governor,” Rich said. She said she will speak to some of the party caucuses holding meetings in Hollywood.
Karp said Curry’s complaints have been “a winner for everyone except Lenny Curry” — having given publicity to Rich and the party’s dinner.