Live blogging from the FDP Leadership Gala fundraiser

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On a balmy summer afternoon in Hollywood, Florida, on the last Saturday of June — just ahead of the quarterly FEC filing deadline — the Democratic party faithful pulls out all the stops for the annual Leadership Blue Gala fundraising and caucus event, formerly known as the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

Democrats are party in need of some good news, especially with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s threatened lawsuit against President Obama and the Tea Party upset of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, and if anyone generate excitement, it’s tonight’s keynote speaker — and best Democratic pitchman —  former President Bill  Clinton.

3:40 p.m.:

At Debbie Wassermann-Schultz press conference, with Joe Garcia and Allison Tant.

Tant: Raised $1.1 million from the event, a record for the premier Democratic event in Florida. Tant also admitted how difficult  it is  to field Democratic candidates in Florida.

3:50 p.m.:

We have to rebuild this party, districts are drawn fairly and the “elephant in the room” (pun intended) says Wasserman-Schultz. GOP spends “every waking moment” trying to destroy government.

As for Charlie Crist, Tant said that “most” of the delegates were happy with him as the Democratic nominee.

4:00 p.m.:

Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times — winning the award for best- dressed reporter, sporting pink shorts and loafers — some of the most pointed questions for Tant and Wasserman-Schultz, mainly about the sorry shape of the Democratic party. Made me sorry I wore my pink tie — definitely overdressed.

5:00 p.m.:

Overheard at the press table of the Westin Diplomat Grand Ballroom –“For all the money that this room is making there should be better wi-fi.” Technical issues aside — like wi-fi in the lobby only — the rest of the night should go as planned. Keeping fingers crossed.

5:05 p.m.:

Fashion update. Smith changed into long pants, still giving off the South Florida-Broward vibe.

5:35 p.m.:

Back in the lobby, where the signal is better and Charlie Crist is expected to make an appearance. Not only is it the Leadership Gala, but the Westin had also booked a major conference of cheerleaders. Between the swimsuits and suits and ties, the place is packed. Nothing could be closer to the Democratic ideal —  a setting that is truly “for the people.”

6:38 p.m.:

Speaking of For the People, Crist made his fashionably late appearance to a throng of well wishers, saying how “overwhelmed and grateful” he was for the appreciation (it could have been the air conditioning talking).

“It’s a great year for our party, and a great year to be a Democrat,” he added, as he shuffled in supporters from the afternoon heat. “I’m honored to be here.” Nan Rich supporters standing nearby didn’t seem as pleased.

7:00 p.m.:

“I’m focused on Rick Scott,” C said to reporters before the event. “time to get Florida back on track with high speed rail and Medicaid expansion.”

7:45 p.m.:

After four separate invocations, each blessing the Democrats for success in November, the big show began with a relatively low key video from President Obama, who apologized for missing Leadership Blue. “It’s up to you to show voters exactly what is at stake,” he said. Fast fact: Bill Clinton was the first president to observe Ramadan in the White House

“We are Democrats,” Obama said, “and we believe comes not from the top down, but for the bottom up.”

7:52 p.m.:

The Democratic pep rally begins in full force.

Allison Tant energetically takes the stage, declaring that the Florida gubernatorial race is the “the most important ever,” and the removal of Rick Scott is the highest priority.

He put special interests first, and the middle class out … he put our state on the auction block. He never looks out for the middle, class. He doesn’t even see us.”

7:58 p.m.:

“We want to thank President Bill Clinton for his time in the White House,” said Sen. Bill Nelson in a video. “Who knows, he may be back there again.”

“We are going to be singing ‘Happy Days are Here Again, in November,” Nelson added.

8:00 p.m.:

Another video, showing the Democratic “biggest hits”— healthcare, climate change, Rep. Alan Grayson on the floor of Congress how the Republican health plan is to “die faster.”

8:15 p.m.:

Having a conversation about Greenlight Pinellas and Uber with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who believes the Hillsborough PTC is “outdated” and that free market is the best path for innovation in transportation. Go Uber!

8:20 p.m.:

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz introduces a very horse Bill Clinton takes stage to a standing ovation, starts by channeling Chico Escuela in the old SNL skit: “Florida has been very, very good to me.” And Hillary.

Democrats won the state in 2000, in Clinton’s humble opinion.

The affordable care law will cost the country $120 billion less than if the U.S. did nothing, Clinton says.

Obamacare needs to be fixed, not repealed.

“Should we raise the minimum wage,” Clinton asked. “Of course we should.”

8:41 p.m.:

Clinton pulls out a chart on healthcare differential, which no one can see, as part of his presentation. You have to respect someone talks statistics during a pep rally. Proves that Democrats really love Bill Clinton. He is the ultimate policy wonk.

Remembers when he was a young father “whose about to be an old grandfather.” Good applause line.

8:50 p.m.:

“I love Florida,” Clinton says. Audience member shouts back “We love you too.” The man owns the room.

8:55 p.m.:

After hitting all the right Democratic taking points, Clinton delivers the quintessential Clinton line: “We have more in common that differences.” He has used that line for years, and it still electrifies the room.

“Everyone of you know how special this place is,” he said.  Noted how 40 years ago, the entire crowd would have looked like him — old grey haired men. Now he is glad his demographic is represented in the room. It shows how far the Democratic party had come.

“We are winning the presidential years, and they are winning the non-presidential years,” he added, while calling on Democratic candidates to explain to each voter why health care, minimum wage are immigration is important.

“Explain, explain, explain,” he concluded. “The future depends on it.”

9:05 p.m.:

Afternote: halfway through the speech, a staffer told the assembled press not to leave the cordoned off press table area. Apparently, the Secret Service did not do a complete “security sweep” of the area. Reporters were warned not to leave the area, on threat of “tasering.”

So, no questions, no approaching the crowd, or it’s “don’t taze me, bro.”


Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.