LAKE BUENA VISTA – Hundreds of top state Republican Party donors and officials celebrated their party’s political success at a fundraising dinner Friday night, but concern about the government shutdown and its potential political effects hovered in the background.
In a caucus meeting just before the dinner, members of the governing executive committee of the party voted by acclamation for a resolution expressing support for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a leader of the congressional tea party forces who refused to pass a measure continuing government funding, including the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Cruz has caught criticism even from some fellow Republicans in Congress for his role in the shutdown.
If the party’s board of trustees gives final approval of the resolution today, the party will send letters of support to Cruz and others in Congress who backed him, said Pasco County GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting.
Hard-core party activists in the crowd weren’t worried about the shutdown, which Democrats say will hurt the Republicans’ image heading into the 2014 elections.
Speakers at the dinner made few direct references to the shutdown, except for Gov. Rick Scott, who contrasted the federal budget wrangling with Florida’s balanced budget. Scott talked to the crowd on closed circuit television from Tallahassee after canceling his planned in-person appearance because of Tropical Storm Karen.
The governor cited economic figures that will be part of his coming re-election campaign – paying down state debt, cutting unemployment and bringing back jobs lost in the Great Recession.
“We’ve got a lot of things to be proud about,” Scott said.
State party Chairman Lenny Curry, speaking with his arm in a sling from a rotator cuff injury in his shoulder, told the crowd Republicans are far and away the dominant party in state politics.
After winning full control of state government in 1998, he said, “Now look at our bench” – Republicans hold all three elected state Cabinet seats as well as the governorship and majorities in both houses of the Legislature.
Asked whether he considers the shutdown a political problem for the party, Curry said, “Look, there are varying voices within the Republican Party. It’s my job to keep those caucuses and those differing opinions in the same tent.”
But some Republicans present, particularly elected officials, spoke cautiously and with some indications of concern, hoping for a quick end to the shutdown.
Asked whether the shutdown could be a problem for Republicans, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said, “It’s a problem for the country.”
“I think they’re going to get it resolved and not let the country default” on its debt, he said.
Jorge Bonilla, who hopes to run in 2014 against liberal Democratic firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando, called the sutdown “regrettable” and “an unfortunate failure of leadership,” for which he blamed the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Barack Obama.
Others said it could be a bigger problem for the party.
“In most congressional districts, it won’t be a problem,” because of districting, which has created safe GOP districts, said Gainesville-based strategist and pollster Alex Patton. “But at the more macro level, state and national races, it could be significant.”
Via email, Pasco County tax collector and former state legislator Mike Fasano also said he’s concerned.
“If the shutdown begins to impact the debate on the raising of the debt ceiling, then there could be serious consequences that extend far beyond the government shutdown,” he said. Asked whether it shows a split in the party, he said, “There is a vocal minority in the GOP that is getting more attention than it perhaps deserves.’’