With the race to become Republican Party of Florida chair coming down to the wire, candidates are scrambling to make a name for themselves — and at least one of the leaders in the race is saying that those voting should look to candidates’ “past experience” when deciding who will be the best person to run the party after former chair Jim Greer was forced out of the job amidst scandal.
Though the race isn’t as highly scrutinized as the recent mid-term elections, the competition to run the state GOP is still an important one for the state of Florida. The position was mired in controversy after the scandalous dealings of former chair Greer came to light. Greer was replaced by interim chair state Sen. John Thrasher and later charged with six felonies.
Five candidates — Deborah Cox-Roush, Sid Dinerstein, Dave Bitner, Tony DiMatteo and Joe Gruters — are now going head-to-head for a chance at the job, each touting their own experience, accountability and political allegiances.
“This race is a sprint,” says DiMatteo. “It’s not like the race for governor or president, where the candidates take a year to campaign. For me, this race started in mid-November, and I took two weeks off for the holidays. It’s been very fast-moving.”
Listing his qualifications, DiMatteo cites his experience as a Pinellas County chairman and state committeeman, as well as his early vote of confidence in Sen.-elect Marco Rubio, R-Fla. In addition to several photos alongside Rubio, DiMatteo’s website proudly proclaims he “advised Marco Rubio to run for the US Senate in March 2009(two months before he filed!).”
DiMatteo says that he was “very active” in the Rubio campaign, but it was his time as the chairman of Pinellas County that led him to the decision to run for state GOP chair: “I figured I had something to offer after the Jim Greer saga.”
Perhaps DiMatteo’s biggest rival is current Sarasota County Republican Party chairman Joe Gruters. Gruters recently received endorsements from some of Florida’s leading Christian conservative groups and some news outlets have already bet on him as the winner of the upcoming race.
But Gruters’ track record isn’t flawless. His time as the campaign manager and treasurer for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, has recently come under scrutiny.
Buchanan has, for several years, been accused of trading reimbursements for campaign dollars and pressuring employees at his car dealerships to contribute to his campaign. A recent lawsuit filed by the Federal Election Commission reveals a new round of allegations. After The Florida Independent broke the story of the FEC suit, Gruters declined to comment, saying he was “essentially removed from the conversation.”
Though DiMatteo is careful not to point fingers, he speaks his mind about the best leadership for the already-tainted state party. When asked whether Gruters’ involvement with the Buchanan campaign should give voters pause in their decision to elect him for GOP chair, DiMatteo demurs, saying “the committee as a whole will vet the candidates” according to the questions “they deem important.”
“What I will say, is that past experience is the best indicator of future performance.”