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Where Have All the Senators Gone?

May 15, 2015 - 6:00pm

Four months have passed since Blaise Ingoglia took over as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida in an upset over party favorite Leslie Dougher, but wounds between the Senate and the rest of the party are slow to heal.

Quarterly meetings usually bring in Republican lawmakers from both the House and the Senate. Senate President Andy Gardiner has made appearances at recent meetings, flanked by other top Republicans in the upper chamber.

Not this weekend. Senators were noticeably absent from the party's spring quarterly meeting.

Ingoglia's takeover of the party ruffled feathers among the RPOF. Not only did a handful of staffers resign following his rise to power, but the committee which coordinates Republican Senate campaigns left the RPOF office and shifted $800,000 into a committee run by Gardiner.

Gov. Rick Scott also pulled $600,000 out of the RPOF once Ingoglia took over.

Surprise, surprise -- Scott didn't show up at this weekend's quarterly meeting, either.

The no-shows demonstrate the scars are still there.

No doubt the divide between the House and Senate has been exacerbated by the ongoing divide over whether Florida will expand Medicaid. The impasse over the issue led to the House adjourning three days early during this year's legislative session, ultimately resulting in a special session set to begin June 1 to create a state budget.

Even Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, former chairman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party and the Senate budget chair, was a no-show.

Ingoglia, a new House member, wields a great deal of power as both party chairman and a state lawmaker.

He is largely responsible for creating a harmonious environment for the party. When asked whether he had any specific plans to bring the Senate back into the fold for 2016, he told Sunshine State News he has been communicating with senators, but offered no solid information on whether they have intentions of returning to the building.

Instead, Ingoglia remains mission-based -- and he vows to push forward with bringing success to the party next year.

"President Gardiner ... and I ... stay in touch, but [the party] is still focused on the task at hand, which is the 29 electoral votes. In the absence of [the Senates presence,] its still not going to change our game plan, said Ingoglia, who told SSN he keeps the Senate in the know with party happenings.

"Just because they're not in the building anymore doesn't mean we dont have a good working relationship with them," he explained.

No Republican denies Florida will be ground zero for ensuring political success for a White House win.

"Florida is vital," said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who used the meeting to let party members know he was considering a Senate bid. "A Republican needs Florida to win the White House."

Political analyst Christian Camara said Medicaid expansion could have played a part in a possible divide, but remained optimistic that conditions would improve.

"Knowing Blaise, I'm sure he would try to smooth things over," he said.

SSN reached out to Senate President Gardiner's staff for comment but had not heard from them as of this article's release.

Republicans aren't shying away from the fact that Florida would be pivotal come 2016 -- but they're less forthcoming about the possibility that there's a very real possibility they will enter a campaign to help turn the nation's biggest swing state red in what's playing out to be a dramatic production acted out by Floridas politicians.



Can the RPOF effectively tackle a huge election year with such a stark divide erupting from within?



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