NAPLES — For a gathering of Democrats, there was a lot of talk about Republicans on Saturday night in Naples.
At a fundraiser for the Collier County Democratic Party, about 200 supporters came out to hear Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, skewer opposition candidates and pound the podium for the president and other top party members.
“I think the president has benefited greatly from the performance of the Republicans in their debates,” Smith said before the gala. “If we had any extra money tonight, I would like to spend it on additional Republican presidential debates. Every time they debate, he (Obama) wins.”
Marlene “Mickey” Gargan, chairwoman of the Collier Democratic Party, echoed Smith.
The Republican presidential candidates, she said, “are the best advantage we have right now.”
Tickets for the dinner at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club ranged from $50 to $250; proceeds go toward the party’s local office.
“I think this election is going to be really important to Florida, and Florida is going to be really important to this election,” Smith said. “No president has been elected from the Republican Party since Calvin Coolidge that didn’t not carry Florida.”
Smith, a practicing attorney in Gainesville, made a name for himself as a state attorney in Central Florida in the 1990s. But his entry into politics wasn’t until 2000, when he was elected to the Florida Senate on the Democratic ticket.
He ran unsuccessfully in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2006, losing the nomination to U.S. Rep. Jim Davis. Alongside Alex Sink, he ran as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Florida in 2010.
He became chairman of the Florida Democratic Party in 2011, a position he will hold until the end of this year.
With a background in law and political involvement, Smith is watching Congressional redistricting with an eagle eye.
“If we get fair districts and we don’t win, then shame on us,” Smith told the crowd Saturday night. “But right now, the game is fixed before it’s played, and that’s wrong. We’re not trying to fix the outcome of the race, but we want to make sure that everybody’s given a fair chance … we’re going to spend every dollar it takes to win this lawsuit, I promise you.”
The Democratic Party in Florida is challenging in court new legislative and congressional maps that are the result of the redistricting process carried out every decade.
“These lines are good for a decade so we’ve got to get them right,” he said.
His speech concluded with a standing ovation.
Volunteering at the event Saturday night was Alodia de Jesus. A native of the Dominican Republic, she said she gives her time because she wants to encourage minorities to be more politically involved.
“It doesn’t matter who they vote for, just that they vote,” she said. “But if they are minorities, they have to understand who is going to give them the opportunities.”