MIAMI — Florida Democrats have attended many a Jefferson-Jackson dinner where the flow of cocktails was crucial to keeping the mood upbeat.
But 1,000 activists and elected officials at the state party's annual gathering on Saturday were buzzed before they even arrived, intoxicated by having a popular president in the White House, a 694,000-voter edge in statewide registration, and opportunities to challenge the GOP's hold on state government in 2010.
''We're actually looking forward to the next campaign season rather than fearing it,'' said Mitch Ceasar, Broward County's Democratic Party chair.
It was a major mood shift from past years.
Keynote speaker Tim Kaine, the governor of Virginia and chair of the Democratic National Committee, vowed to help state party leaders take back the governor's mansion -- where a Democrat hasn't lived for a decade.
''I understand your current governor decided he had enough after a couple of years,'' said Kaine.
The state party's gala at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach came less than three weeks after Gov. Charlie Crist's decision to forego a second term and run for the Senate, triggering Florida's biggest political shakeup in decades.
All four of the seats in Florida's Cabinet -- including the governor's -- are up for grabs, along with the Senate seat that will be available when Republican Mel Martinez steps down in 2010.
Saturday amounted to a coming-out party for Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who Democrats view as their best hope for wresting the governor's mansion from the Republican party. It's a tall order for a politician who has served only 17 months in public office. Democrats hope her rural upbringing, business background and home base in competitive Tampa Bay make her an ideal candidate. She would be the state's first female governor if elected.
Her speech after dinner drew the most interest.
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