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Fla. Dems Hold Annual Dinner With No Candidates

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File photo of a voting booth. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Voters in this stretch of beach towns and retirement communities provide the first 2014 campaign test of whether Democrats can counter GOP attacks on the president’s health care overhaul by accusing Republicans of threatening popular benefit programs for the elderly. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

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HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) — Florida Democrats made their case for the 2014 elections Saturday without any candidates to rally around.

Unlike four years ago, when the annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner gave gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink a huge spotlight, and featured Senate candidate Kendrick Meek, Democrats decided to keep the program short and set a speakers list that only included Sen. Bill Nelson, congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro.

Not that there are many candidates to invite. Former Sen. Nan Rich is the only credible statewide candidate that’s announced plans to run. She hopes to challenge Gov. Rick Scott, but she wasn’t asked to speak.

“This is not a candidates forum. This is a fundraising event to celebrate the victories of 2012 and to fundraise so that we can go forward,” said state party Chairwoman Allison Tant before the dinner.

She said, however, people are so unhappy with Republican Gov. Rick Scott they didn’t need a candidate to highlight.

“People are so anxious for a change they almost don’t care who the person is. They’re just ready for the candidates to identify themselves and come out. The enthusiasm is incredible,” Tant said.

Former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is thinking of running for his former seat as a Democrat and 2010 nominee Alex Sink is considering another run, but neither has announced plans.

The dinner’s three speakers gave a preview of the points they would be making later in the evening during an afternoon press conference.

“Rick Scott has decimated the quality of life for working families,” said Wasserman Schultz. “Rick Scott has continuously demonstrated how out of touch he is. That’s why our event is successful tonight. That’s why we’re going to beat him in November (2014). It’s why he’s the most unpopular governor in the country.”

Tant said the event raised $850,000 for the party and 1,300 tickets were sold.

Castro criticized Scott for vetoing a bill that would have allowed drivers licenses for immigrants who were brought to the country as children and who are not citizens.

“This is just one more example of the divisiveness that’s too much a part of the Florida Republican Party today,” said Castro.

Nelson, who is being asked by some Democrats to run for governor, said Scott has a “narrow, extremist political ideology.”

“That’s why people are upset and they’re looking for someone that can take him on and win. That’s the backdrop to all of this,” said Nelson. He said, though, he has no plans to run.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry defended Scott in a statement.

“Gov. Rick Scott’s strong leadership has led Florida to have the second largest drop in unemployment in the nation, some of the best schools and teachers in America, and job creators flocking to the state to invest,” he said. “Democrats have to choose between a former governor who oversaw the second highest jump in unemployment in the nation, an extreme liberal former state senator who doesn’t see a tax hike she doesn’t like, or a former CFO who’s already lost to Gov. Scott.”

Rich said she was disappointed she wasn’t allowed to speak. Sink also said Rich should have been given the opportunity. She prepared a speech anyway and tweeted a link to it.

In it, she not only criticized Scott, but she also pointed out a difference she has with potential primary opponent Crist.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat. I’m a Democrat because of our party’s values and priorities,” she wrote.

A man with a “LET NAN RICH SPEAK” sign was told to leave the convention center by hotel security.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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