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Hopes For A 'Blue Wave' At Hillsborough Democratic Fundraiser

Roberto Roldan
WUSF Public Media
Mark Hanisee, executive director of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, addresses the crowd at the party's annual spring fundraiser.

The Hillsborough County Democratic Party's spring fundraiser on Saturday was abuzz with talk of a "blue wave," a "blue tsunami" and a "fall frenzy."

Democratic candidates for local and statewide office are hoping that the anger against President Donald Trump, as well as new votes from Puerto Rican migrants and energized young people, will result in more votes for them in November.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo said she believes what she calls a "blue wave" could even help put a Democrat in the Governor's mansion, something that hasn’t happened in Florida in more than 20 years.

"Republicans have been in power for years, and this is the year we are going to change that," she said. "But it's going to take everyone to make the blue wave happen and turn it in to a blue tsunami."

Saturday's fundraiser served also served as a platform where all four gubernatorial candidates could make their pitch to Tampa Bay donors and political leaders.

Gwen Graham, who sought to distinguish herself as the "education candidate," warned that the blue wave might not be felt in all of Florida's 67 counties. The former Congresswoman from North Florida said Democrats will need to court women and voters in rural counties in order to win in November.

"This is the most important election in Florida's history," she said. "You've got to do better north of Orlando. Hillary Clinton did really well in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, but she got beaten (statewide) really badly."

Graham championed higher teacher pay and funding for vocational training in public schools. She is running in a field of candidates that include Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando businessman Chris King.

Levine looked to stake his claim as the progressive, but pro-business candidate on Saturday, calling for more funding for public transportation and schools, as well as a minimum wage hike and the decriminalization of marijuana.

"Have you ever taken a look at the Human Resources manual of the most admired companies in America?" he said. "They are pro-education, pro-health care, they're pro-environment and if they’re going to come to your community, you better make sure you have good public transportation."

The fundraising event also provided a first-look at some candidates for less high-profile state races.

The two Democratic candidates for Attorney General are Hillsborough County natives. Sean Shaw is a state representative from Tampa and Ryan Torrens is a Tampa consumer rights lawyer.

Both said that as Attorney General they would sue the Legislature over what they see as inadequate school funding.

Torrens also said that, if elected, he would be an advocate for felon voting rights restoration. The Attorney General is a member of the state clemency board.

"We will finally end our long, sad history of voter suppression in this state," he said.

Jeremy Ring, the only declared Democratic candidate for Chief Financial Officer, also vowed to use his vote on the clemency board to restore felon voting rights.

Ring, a former Yahoo executive, said he would promote policies that bolstered Florida's homegrown businesses rather than attracting outside businesses through tax cuts.

"We're going to innovate and inspire," Ring said. "Rick Scott would rather give all the money in the world to Amazon.com to come to Florida. As Democrats, I think we need to focus on building the next Amazon from the ground up in Florida."

Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter, R. David Walker of Plant City and Florida A&M University chemistry professor Thomas Clayton White, Jr. are also running for the Commissioner of Agriculture seat.

In addition to protecting working class families in agricultural communities, Porter said he wanted to be a progressive force in the cabinet.

"The Agriculture Commissioner race is extremely important,” he said. “It's a cabinet position. It controls concealed weapons, it controls consumer affairs."

Four Republicans are also running for Agriculture Commissioner. The office is being vacated by Adam Putnam who is running for Governor.


Roberto Roldan is a senior at the University of South Florida pursuing a degree in mass communications and a minor in international studies.