4 vying to be state GOP chairman


Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 9:43 p.m.
ORLANDO - The race to be the next leader of the Florida Republican Party will rely more on the four candidates' friendships with GOP members than any ideological or geographical battles, state party leaders said Friday.
The 246-member executive board today is set to choose a new chairman to replace Al Cardenas, who oversaw the close 2000 presidential election victory and the 2002 Republican landslide in Florida during his four years.
The four candidates, state party Vice Chairman Jim Stelling of Seminole County, national committeewoman Carole Jean Jordan of Vero Beach, Pinellas County GOP Chairman Paul Bedinghaus and Polk County's Paul Senft, chairman of the state party's caucus of committeemen and committeewomen, differ very little in their goals or ideology.
They all pledge to strengthen the state GOP at the local level, make sure a Republican is elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and continue a golden era of the state party, which has dominated Florida politics the past four years.
Adding to the wide-open nature of the race is that they all come from the same swath of Central Florida and Gov. Jeb Bush's refusal to take sides.
"This is a genuinely even contest," Orange County GOP Chairman Lew Oliver said. "There are four people well qualified . . . and that makes it a more free-for-all than it has been in a long time."
Stelling, 60, said his goal if elected is to battle Democrats for mayorships and other offices in city elections.
"We have to engage in those elections," said Stelling, a former insurance company owner who now runs a real estate development firm and electronics import firm. "That's the Democratic farm team."
That goal is echoed by Jordan, who owns an irrigation and well drilling company with her husband.
"My real concern is going into the counties and helping them build their base and taking the physical resources, the physical talent down to the grass roots," said Jordan, 58.
Jordan, who lost to U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon during a Republican primary in 1994, has proposed establishing a speakers' bureau that could send party luminaries to address and raise funds for county parties.
"I believe I have the leadership capabilities, the fund-raising capabilities and the ability to communicate," Jordan said.
Bedinghaus, 38, said he wants to make the state GOP more inclusive, particularly when it comes to attracting blacks and electing more minorities to office. He also said he wants to attract more Panhandle residents who tend to vote Republican for statewide or national races but vote Democratic in local races.
"My leadership style is collaborative and inclusive," Bedinghaus said. "I would be a very accessible candidate."
Senft, past president of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, didn't return phone calls to his home in Haines City or to his Orlando hotel room.
Earlier this month, Florida Democrats also chose a new leader but under circumstances much different from the Republicans.
Florida Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe was forced out after the devastating losses of November and former Tallahassee Mayor Scott Maddox was elected to replace him. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Florida by about 350,000 voters.
Republicans said they have no worries that the close race will cause divisions.
"I think we're going to come out of this in really good shape," Oliver said.

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