Alex Sink, considered one of the leading prospective Democratic candidates to run against Gov. Rick Scott in 2014, has announced she won’t be a candidate.
In an interview Friday, Sink said there was no single, decisive reason for her decision but acknowledged that raising the money for what promises to be a tough race was a consideration.
Fundraising is “always a factor when you’re considering making a run for any office,” she said. “You have to figure out whether you can raise the resources, and it’s not going to be as easy as four years ago when we had an open seat.”
Sink lost to Scott for governor in 2010 by a razor-thin margin, 1.2 percent of the vote.
A businesswoman, former bank executive and longtime political and civic activist, the Thonotosassa resident was once considered the leading new face among Democratic Party electoral prospects in Florida. She served a four-year term as state chief financial officer before the 2010 race.
That loss caused some Democrats to question her ability as a candidate, while others noted that most Democrats lost by much larger margins in the election.
The death late last year of her husband, lawyer Bill McBride, who was also a leading force in Democratic politics and an unsuccessful 2002 candidate for governor, removed one of the pillars of her support network.
In an interview, Sink said she “went on hiatus for the first half of the year,” following her husband’s death, and has since been debating the subject of the governor’s race intensely.
She made “lists galore, pros, cons, what’s my head saying, what’s my heart saying,” she said.
“My guiding principle was what can I be doing now to make the biggest difference for the people of Florida. I’ve got a plateful of activities,” she said.
After her 2010 loss, Sink started the Florida Next foundation, dedicated to innovation in public policy and promoting the careers of young people in business and politics. She’s on the national board of Emily’s List, a political action committee that backs Democratic women candidates, and is involved in other charitable activities, including leaving Sunday on a nine-day trip to China for the United Way.
“And my business life is quite active,” she said.
Sink is a senior adviser at the Tampa-based Hyde Park Capital, a boutique investment bank where McBride formerly was an executive.
In a post on her Facebook page, Sink said, “After careful consideration, I have decided that the best way for me to make a positive and lasting impact on our state is to continue the work we’ve started together. I plan to continue my involvement with the Florida Next Foundation, working to build a state of innovation and inspiring the next generation of young Florida leaders. And of course I am going to be supporting candidates who I believe share my vision that Florida can be a state of opportunity for all of its citizens.”
Asked whether she’s likely to run for office in the future, Sink said, “I’m open to the right race at the right time.”
Regardless of her electoral future, Sink said she intends to be active in politics.
“I’m appalled about this governor’s lack of leadership,” she said. “By not being a candidate, I’m going to have a lot more to say about his failures.”
Among her other top political priorities, Sink said, will be supporting Pasco County state House candidate Amanda Murphy, St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Rick Kriseman, Tampa state House Sean Shaw, and the re-election campaigns of U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
Sink wouldn’t pick a Democrat she backs against Scott but said it would be “outstanding news” if Sen. Bill Nelson runs.
Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston is the only prominent, declared Democratic candidate, but former Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to announce soon. Nelson, a subject of speculation and entreaties by some leading Democrats to run, says he has “no plans” and “no intention” to run but hasn’t ruled it out.
Sink said in an interview several months ago that she thought a Crist candidacy would be “a disaster” because of his vulnerability to attack over changing his positions and changing his party. A former Republican, Crist was a state senator, education commissioner and governor before changing parties after he lost the 2010 Republican U.S. Senate primary to Marco Rubio.
Friday, Sink said, “It’s no secret that Charlie Crist has got a lot of explaining to do. Over and over again, all I can hear is him saying, ‘I’m a pro-life, pro-gun conservative.’’’
But, she added, “It’s not impossible – Ronald Reagan switched from being a Democrat to a Republican. (Crist) has his share of baggage and he’s going to need to figure out what to do about it.”
Asked about her “disaster” comment, she said, “That was a comment I made six months ago when I first started hearing he might be running for governor. It depends on how well he’s doing his disaster preparedness.”
She said she and other candidates “want forums to hear our candidates speak to us. ... I’m going to be listening very carefully for the person who shares my values, has the best message and can raise the money to have a chance. ... There may be other candidates down the road.”
She said she considers it “doubtful but not impossible” that Nelson will run. “When we get into the spring and summer he might be prevailed upon to run. From my perspective that would be otustanding news.”
Crist, who’s accompanying his wife on a business trip to Asia, provided a written statement through a spokesman on Sink’s decision: “I loved working with Alex on the Florida Cabinet and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we work together. Florida needs Alex Sink and I’m excited about what’s happening at her Florida NEXT Foundation.”
Nelson wasn’t available for comment, but his chief of staff Pete Mitchell said, “He respects that Alex went through a very thoughtful process and respects the decision she’s reached.”
Scott, who in 2010 was a political unknown, shocked the Republican Party establishment by defeating former state Attorney General Bill McCollum for the Republican nomination before edging Sink.
A wealthy former hospital chain owner, he spent $73 million of his own money on the race. Allies have said, and Scott doesn’t deny, that he plans to spend up to $100 million on his campaign this year, but his fundraisers have said they hope to raise that much so Scott won’t have to spend more of his own money.
Scott’s standing in polls has been poor throughout his tenure as governor but has improved some this year, causing political experts who once considered him a likely loser in 2014 to forecast a tough race.
Democratic fans of Sink, particularly some in her home base of Tampa, said they were disappointed by her decision, but all said they expect her to remain active in politics.
“To run statewide, you have to be 100 percent committed,” said Alan Clendenin, state Democratic Party vice chairman and Sink loyalist. “It’s a grueling process and if she really didn’t feel she had it in her, it’s her decision to make for herself.”
Lawyer Richard Salem, another long-time supporter, said Sink “does not need public office to make a difference. She contributes just as much through private service, too.” The Florida Next foundation, he said, will help engender “a new generation of leaders.”