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Democrats Stage Major Miami Beach Fundraiser

Eager to repeat its 2008 national election success in statewide races in 2010, a fired up Florida Democratic Party gathered Saturday evening in Miami Beach for its annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner.

The Jefferson-Jackson fundraiser, named for former presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, is a staple of Democratic organizations across the country. The Florida JJ dinner, which took place at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, featured speeches by Democratic National Committee chairman and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, as well as Florida gubernatorial hopeful and current Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. Also speaking were House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston, Senate Democratic Leader-designate Nan Rich, D-Weston, former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham and state party chairwoman Karen Thurman.

About 1,100 attendees who donated to the state Democratic got to hear speeches from the party’s elected officials.
Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said the event raised $625,000 for the party.

Sink, introduced by Graham and preceded by a biographical video, said it was time for Florida to have a "new and different kind of governor" and warned the state Democratic Party not to get too caught up in celebrating having delivered Florida's 27 electoral votes to President Barack Obama last year.

"As we've giving ourselves lots of pats on the back tonight, let's not go resting on our laurels tomorrow," Sink told the enthusiastic crowd. "Because Florida needs your energy, your talents and your commitments more than ever."

Much like Obama did in his campaign for president, Sink, who is seeking just her second elected office in running for governor, sought to paint the state Republican Party as yesterday's news.

"All they seem to be willing to do is rearrange the chairs and maintain the status quo," she said of the state GOP. "Because of the challenges we face, the status quo has got to go. It's no longer OK to keep doing things the same old way."

As she promised when she announced her campaign, Sink touted her business experience as the reason she should be Florida's next governor. Sink spent 30 years in the banking business, rising to president of the Florida division of Bank of America.

"Too often politicians talk about jobs without ever creating any," she said. "Floridians need jobs. Our families need help. It's going to take a leader with nearly three decades of business experience to rebuild a strong economy for Florida."

Sink was joined in her condemnation of state Republicans by Senate Democratic Leader-designate Rich, who said the GOP agenda was "filled with empty rhetoric and void of new ideas." In particular, Rich criticized the GOP’s handling of the $66.5 billion budget signed last week by Gov. Charlie Crist

"This past session was one of missed opportunities, one of short term solutions for long-term problems in our state," she told the crowd as they ate dinner. "We didn't create a more equitable tax structure for the state of Florida...we didn't close corporate and tax loopholes. We cobbled together a budget with federal stimulus dollars, fee increases, trust fund sweeps and a tobacco tax."

House Democratic Leader Sands agreed, contrasting Rich's characterization of the Legislature's current Republican leaders with the Democratic Party, which he said stood for ordinary Floridians.

"We are the party that stands up and fights for working people, the struggling middle class and the undeserved," he said. "The Democratic party is the party of the people. The people who go to work early and stay late."

GELBER WITHDRAWS FROM U.S. SENATE RACE

Unlike CFO Sink, who delivered a campaign stump speech, state Sen. Dan Gelber used his time before the Florida Democratic establishment to announce the end of his campaign for U.S. Senate.

Gelber, who spent the spring in Tallahassee for the legislative session while primary rival U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek raised money and collected endorsements, has been mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum. But Gelber did not announce any other 2010 plans, saying only that he was withdrawing from the Senate race to "explore other opportunities in the Cabinet" and to promote party unity.

"Gov. Crist's decision to run for the U.S. Senate has created a domino effect that has given us a real opportunity for change," Gelber told the assembled Democrats. "But to get that change, we have to do something. We must shed our historical habit of having a circular firing squad. Instead, we must unify. It is for that reason...I'm going to step back from my U.S. Senate bid to contemplate other positions in the Cabinet and to give other Florida Democrats a chance to consider what they want to do."

Gelber's decision was immediately praised by Graham, the elder statesman of the party.

"That was a very courageous, unifying statement that (Gelber) just made," Graham said in his own speech minutes after Gelber's announcement. "He's going to sacrifice his own ambition for the future of taking back Florida that we can all have if we are a Democratic Florida."

Speaking with reporters after the dinner, Meek also praised Gelber and said his decision would give Democrats a better shot at winning the U.S. Senate for which Crist is currently presumed to be the frontrunner.

"Dan's a class act," Meek said. "He's a good guy. He's always been a man of integrity. His decision tonight was difficult … (and) is going to result in our party coming together doing something that is going to give Floridians a chance to vote for a candidate that will be able to win this Senate seat."

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