Dan Gelber working to get heard

Aug 11, 2010

MARK LANE

Daytona Beach News Journal


The traditional kickoff of the Florida political season is marked by the Wausau Possum Festival, which was last weekend.

Dan Gelber, a Florida senator running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, made the strategic decision to opt instead for the Haines City Pig Roast.

This was followed by a bus ride to the Daytona Beach Bandshell and then stops in Brevard and Seminole counties.

If he was disappointed at the prospect of speaking between thundershowers Saturday to a crowd of no more than 30 Volusia County Democrats (at least 10 of whom were candidates themselves), he did not show it.

"Hey, Koz! Working your butt off?" he shouted to U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas as he took cover from the rain under a walkway.

The congresswoman from New Smyrna Beach averred that yes, indeed, she was. Which made two of them.

Gelber is coming off an 8-0 sweep of newspaper editorial board endorsements over his opponent in the Democratic primary, Dave Aronberg, also a state senator. But Aronberg is closing his campaign with a blast of TV ads accusing Gelber of ties to British Petroleum because Gelber's former law firm represented the oil giant.

A connection which is kind of a stretch, but, with repetition, it could have an effect. The ads also call Gelber a "Miami lawyer" in a way that suggests they'd be better off voting for Aronberg, who, as coincidence would have it, is a lawyer from Miami.

Neither man is much known to voters and most polls show the vast majority of primary voters have been slow to make up their mind in this race.

And it's particularly hard for either candidate to break through because media attention is focused on the noisy attack and counterattack of the Republican governor's race and the bitter Democratic U.S. Senate race.

By contrast, Gelber thinks his race has been fairly civilized.

"They're an episode of 'Survivor' and we're 'Masterpiece Theater,' by comparison," he said.

And, indeed, Gelber and Aronberg are competing for an elite audience of Florida voters -- people who vote in primaries and have some rough idea of how the Florida Cabinet functions and what the attorney general does.

"Primary voters tend to follow things more closely," Gelber said.

He kept his remarks short and peppy. He gave props to Kosmas ("like a big sister to me") and Volusia County Council candidate Joyce Cusack, both of whom he served with in the state Legislature, and stressed his work as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in South Florida from 1986 to1994.

"It's time to take back the keys to the car," he concluded, echoing what is going to be a theme for state Democrats.

Florida Dems face the tricky task of reminding voters that in this year of anti-incumbent feeling, they're the party that's out of power on the state level. Even if they're the party in power on the national level.

And judging from the turnout at the Bandshell, it will take a lot more work to fire up summertime primary voters. A time when politics feels pretty distant and few voters are very urgently focused on who will become the state's head lawyer.

The winner of the Democratic primary will still be relatively unknown to voters. And he'll face whichever one of three relatively unknown Republicans wins that party's primary. It will take a lot of miles on a bus and a lot of ads to change that.




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