ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Florida Republicans — seeking to keep their nearly two-decade hold on state government — could have chosen their annual fundraising dinner to crow about their successes in state politics.
But the big event — which was supposed to feature a live appearance from Gov. Rick Scott — was at times low-key and even somber. They stopped to remember former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw, who died last month. Roughly 700 people, including some high-powered lobbyists and state legislators, attended.
There was hardly any mention of the ongoing federal government shutdown or President Barack Obama. There was just one fleeting remark regarding the president's health care overhaul even though a key portion of the law took effect earlier this week.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry kicked off the Friday night event at Walt Disney World by calling Florida Democrats a "laughing stock."
He cited several recent events, including the party's decision to back a candidate for chief financial officer who wound up pulling out of the race after it was revealed he had filed for bankruptcy.
Curry also questioned if Democrats were going to go ahead with an "arranged marriage" with former Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist, who switched his party affiliation to Democrat last year. It is widely expected that Crist will announce that he is challenging Scott.
"This guy is not fit to govern and we can demonstrate that," said Curry, citing Crist's decision to seek the U.S. Senate after just one term in office instead of trying to help the state's economy to recover.
Scott cancelled his appearance at the last minute due to the potential threat of Tropical Storm Karen to the state. Appearing by video, Scott said coordinating with emergency officials was the "right thing to do" instead of attending a political event.
There was one awkward moment during the headliner speech by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. While discussing national unemployment figures, she contended that one reason that the jobless rate has dropped under Obama is due to a shrinking workforce.
Scott, however, has trumpeted the drop in the state's jobless rate even though state economists have said part of the reason for the decline is because people have stopped looking for work. Curry and Republican Party officials, however, contended Scott still deserves credit because the state's unemployment rate was not projected to be this low this year. The state's unemployment rate currently is 7 percent.
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