HOLLYWOOD, Florida — There are four statewide offices on November's ballot, and the Florida Democratic Party is essentially conceding two of them.
Acknowledging that the party is at a low point, party officials said their main focus will be trying to win the governor's office, even if it means supporting a former Republican who they've fought against in five previous statewide races.
They also see Attorney General Pam Bondi as being vulnerable, but otherwise they don't see a realistic chance of defeating incumbent Republicans Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
"We have two well-established Republicans who are sitting on a stockpile of funds and have the power of incumbency," Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant said. "And they haven't climbed on the crazy-train that Pam Bondi and Rick Scott are on."
Democrats met at their annual fundraising dinner Saturday, where the focus was on defeating Republican Gov. Rick Scott. The two Democrats who hope to challenge him, Republican-turned-Democrat former Gov. Charlie Crist and former Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, worked the crowd, but weren't given a chance to speak.
Likewise, the candidates for attorney general, former deputy attorney general and ex-Department of Children and Families secretary George Sheldon and state Rep. Perry Thurston, greeted party activists.
Tant acknowledged that recruiting statewide candidates has been difficult. She and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads the Democratic National Committee, said the goal now is to build for the future and they're already looking ahead to the next election cycle.
"Let's keep in mind just how deep a hole the Florida Democrats have been in and have been in for a very long time," Wasserman Schultz said. "The goal, both at the state and national level, is to make sure that we can first rebuild the party — rebuild the party infrastructure, raise the resources that we need, make sure that we deepen the bench."
She said Republicans, who have an overwhelming advantage in the state House and Senate, have also created a hostile political environment that keeps some people from running.
"That makes it a little more challenging to recruit candidates. What results in Republicans souring people on government is that you end up with the best and the brightest who have so many other options taking a look right now and saying 'You know, I'm going to run for office one day, but I'm just going to wait until maybe the environment gets a little more cooperative," she said.