Road to Republican Party of Florida Chairmanship Runs Through Sarasota

Nov 16, 2010

The following article was published by Sunshine News on November 16, 2010:

Road to Republican Party of Florida Chairmanship runs through Sarasota

By Kenric Ward

In the run for Republican Party of Florida chairman, Joe Gruters, the young party leader from Sarasota County, may have the inside track.

Though GOP veterans Sid Dinerstein, Deborah Cox Roush and Sharon Day are angling for the position being vacated by state Sen. John Thrasher, incoming Gov. Rick Scott has said Gruters would be his choice.

“We all know that the next chairman of the Republican Party ought to be Joe, because he has done such a wonderful job in Sarasota,” Scott said of Gruters in the closing days of the gubernatorial campaign.

State parties historically honor the preference of their leader when it comes to choosing a chairman. As governor, Scott is the titular head of the RPOF.

At 35, Gruters is 20 or more years younger than the other GOP contenders. That’s another potential advantage, says state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

“The last election cycle showed people are looking for fresh ideas. Gruters is someone who would bring a lot of energy,” said Galvano, who seves on Scott’s transition team advisory board.

But the Sarasota party chief has more than young blood going for him, adds Galvano, 44. “He’s put in the time and effort to seek this position. He’s been a great party leader locally and statewide, and he worked hard to make sure Rick Scott was successful.”

Reversing a blue tide that elected five Democrats in Sarasota County four years ago, the Gruters-led GOP organization helped elect every Republican on the ballot there this year. Democrat Alex Sink, who carried the county in her run for CFO in 2006, lost to Scott there this year.

According to figures supplied by the Sarasota GOP, the local party led all county Republican organizations by making 155,137 get-out-the-vote phone calls between Sept. 3 and Nov. 2. That’s roughly three times more calls than Hillsborough County (Cox Roush’s home base), which has twice the population.

Neither Palm Beach nor Broward counties — home bases of Dinerstein and Day, respectively — ranked in the top 10.

Sarasota County’s GOP also ranked No. 1 in its number of  Facebook “fans” — 4,080 vs. 1,444 for the Hillsborough organization and 1,237 for Broward.

Gruters, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s former campaign manager and longtime political director, said he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy for the RPOF post.

“I’m definitely considering it. Over next two weeks, I will be talking with people, including Gov.-elect Scott,” he told Sunshine State News.

In the meantime, Gruters, an accountant for Shinn & Co., has strong ideas about the GOP and its needs.

While calling himself “an underdog” because of his brief two-year tenure as a county chairman, the fourth-generation Sarasotan said his reputation and work as a “fiscal watchdog” would restore financial order and credibility to the state party.

“With Florida being the biggest swing state in the country, the party needs to improve dramatically. Chairman Thrasher has helped to right the ship, but we have a long way to go to build trust with the public,” he said.

Though Dinerstein, Cox Roush and Day each have far more experience within the GOP state machine — Cox Roush currently serves as vice chairman — their inside connections don’t necessarily endear them to the state’s new chief executive who is coming in as an “outsider.”

Conversely, and for whatever reason, Gruters appeared to pique party favorite Bill McCollum during the closely fought gubernatorial primary. As the (Sarasota) Herald-Tribune reported, “McCollum showed the strain with Gruters. … He failed to acknowledge Gruters at an event Gruters helped put together for him in downtown Sarasota that brought in more than 100 people a week before the election. Typically, visiting candidates thank the local party chairman.”

Gruters said his county organization raised $255,000 for Republican campaigns in the past election cycle, and he believes that “past performance will be an indication of future success.”

Banking the blessing of the incoming governor will no doubt carry a lot of currency.

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