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Democrats Recruit a CFO Candidate

Former Tallahassee Rep. Loranne Ausley jumped into the Cabinet race for chief financial officer Tuesday, drawing support from the party’s political establishment for her bid to beat likely Republican contender Jeff Atwater, the Senate president.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, former Sen. Bob Graham, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, and current CFO Alex Sink all weighed in praising Ausley’s candidacy, hinting at the lobbying effort that went into convincing her to run.

“It’s obviously a big step, but it’s the right step,” Ausley said.

Atwater on Tuesday reported having collected $523,000 in the last three months of 2009, bringing his campaign total to $1.6 million. Atwater faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Pat Patterson, R-Deland, but seems to be drawing consensus support from Florida Republican leaders.

Ausley told the News Service of Florida that the fund-raising difference is daunting, but said that having in her corner “legacy” leaders of the state Democratic Party would allow her to catch-up swiftly.

“I wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t think I’d win it,” Ausley said. “Having Sens. Graham, Nelson and others behind me convinces me I can get a lot of help doing what I need to do statewide.”

There are two virtually unknown Democrats who have filed to run for the seat as well, Joshua Larose and Ken Mazzie.

She said the wide-ranging scope of the CFO job, which includes financial regulation and Cabinet duties that touch child care, foreclosure issues, and workers’ compensation policy, is appealing because it holds such influence over the lives of Floridians.

In trying to retain Democratic control of the CFO post, Ausley is abandoning her run for the Senate seat being vacated by term-limited Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee. Ausley’s departure leaves that Democratic-leaning district to a primary contest between former Rep. Curtis Richardson and Bill Montford, a former Leon County school superintendent, with John Shaw, the lone Republican in the race.

Ausley served eight years in the state House before leaving under term limits last fall. She had collected $274,000 for her Senate run, making her the contest’s leading fund-raiser and said Tuesday she is looking to see how much she can transfer into the CFO campaign.

In a statement accompanying her announcement, Nelson said “Democrats are united behind Loranne.

“Just as important – Floridians from all over the state are supporting her candidacy because she has the experience and record cutting waste and abuse we need in Tallahassee.”

Graham praised Ausley’s “passion for looking out for taxpayers,” and promised to “work hard to help her become our state’s next great leader.”

Democrats have struggled to find a contender to hang onto the CFO seat won in 2006 by Sink, now a candidate for governor. Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, Bud Chiles, son of the late governor, and Palm Beach County Sens. Ted Deutch and Jeremy Ring are among those who had either been courted or took a look at the race and declined.

Lawson, himself a candidate for Congress, last month said he was looking at running for CFO – but the glance lasted less than 24 hours before he recommitted to challenging fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd.

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