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Dockery Preparing to Launch Her Campaign

dockerySen. Paula Dockery looks virtually certain to enter the Florida Republican primary for governor – ending Bill McCollum’s six-month run as the party’s sole contender.

Dockery told the News Service of Florida on Thursday that she will decide within three weeks about whether to go forward with her candidacy.

But others close to her say she plans to open a campaign account next week, has a consultant already lined up, and is plotting details of a multi-city announcement tour.

“I think it’s irritating to voters when the party tries to tell them who their nominee is going to be,” Dockery said. “A lot of people are offended by that and they want a choice, and I think I could be that.”

About running for governor, Dockery said, “I’m leaning that way.”

Dockery’s public posture hasn’t changed dramatically since her success in blocking the 61.5-mile, $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train through greater Orlando sparked a “Draft Dockery” movement last spring among critics of the rail.

The 48-year-old Lakeland senator continues to say she’s considering the race, but her most high-profile effort so far has been attending a couple of meet-and-greet events with supporters, including a rally in late June that drew about 35 people to Orlando’s Rosen Centre Hotel.

She also met with David Hill, a Texas campaign strategist who has worked for former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, Jeb Bush and for the Mel Martinez campaign in his primary campaign against McCollum in 2004.

Dockery seems ready to ratchet-up the rhetoric – apparently in advance of formally announcing her challenge of McCollum, the state’s attorney general.

“I’ve been thinking about it and I realize that one senator cannot make the kind of difference that a governor can,” Dockery said. “I know I will not be the big money candidate. It’s going to have to be a grassroots campaign, but I think the people are ready. They’re concerned about the direction of our Republican Party.”

McCollum’s campaign this week said it has raised about $1 million over the past three months – a period when the candidate also helped build Republican Party cash, which hit $4 million last quarter.

The likely Democratic nominee for governor, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, raised $1.6 billion while the party pulled in $2.5 million. Sink said she has $3.6 million in the bank.

In steering cash to the Florida GOP, McCollum is able to direct contributions that top the $500-per election limit facing individual candidates. In turn, the party money would be on hand presumably to help McCollum in the general election – but the party would likely stay out of a primary fight between McCollum and Dockery.

Although Dockery would be starting from far back, her husband, C.C. “Doc” Dockery, a businessman and investor, has plenty that could be used to jump-start his wife’s campaign.

He almost single-handedly sold Florida voters on high-speed rail in 2000, spending $2.7 million of his own money getting a bullet-train amendment into the state Constitution.

The train was to connect Tampa Bay to greater Orlando, going through the Dockerys’ home base of Polk County. But then-Gov. Jeb Bush hated the idea and slowed spending and planning for the train.

Voters in 2004 repealed the amendment, although Sen. Dockery denies some SunRail supporters’ claims that she opposed that plan to exact revenge for her husband.

“These are very turbulent political waters right now,” said Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando consultant warring with the Florida GOP and whose Ax the Tax supporters form a base of Dockery’s backers. “I think her candidacy will be a tremendous shock to all those conventional wisdom thinkers.”

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