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Leslie Dougher

Dougher emerges as clear favorite to replace Curry as state GOP chair

By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

With the official vote more than three weeks away and less than six months before crucial statewide elections, the head of the Clay County GOP appears a shoe-in to replace outgoing Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry.

Leslie Dougher, who also serves as leader of the chairman caucus for the state party, has emerged as the front-runner for the position at the same time that other high-profile contenders have backed out. House Speaker Will Weatherford of Wesley Chapel, who was himself floated as a potential RPOF chairman, tweeted out his support last week.

"I am honored to support @lesliedougher for RPOF Chairman," Weatherford said in a morning post on the social-media site.

Sen. John Thrasher, a former RPOF chairman, said Dougher is likely to be the choice. He said Republican leaders are signaling their support for Dougher.

"We all think that she's going to be a stabilizing person for the party between now and the election," said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

A Twitter account, @DraftDougher, has also popped up in recent days to sing the Clay County chairwoman's praises, though it's not entirely clear who is behind the account.

Dougher did not return a phone message and an email seeking comment Wednesday. A profile on one of her social media pages — which does not reference a potential bid for state chair — says Dougher was "groomed for such a time as this."

"Cutting her baby teeth on small fiscally conservative government nursery rhymes, low taxes and personal responsibility, she graduated from High School while President Ronald Reagan was in office," the profile says. "It was Reagan’s message that further fueled her interest in politics, community and the world around her, and inspired her to roll-up her sleeves and get to work."

Curry, who took over as chairman in September 2011, announced last week he would step aside to weigh running for mayor of Jacksonville against incumbent Alvin Brown, who became the first Democrat to hold the seat in two decades when he won in 2011.

"I feel obligated to give myself the time to fully consider and explore how to serve this community I care for so deeply," Curry wrote in his resignation letter.

The party will select its next chairman on May 31, during its quarterly meeting in Tampa.

Curry presided over a difficult time for the party, which saw President Barack Obama win the state a second time and Democrats increase the size of their minorities in the state House and Senate. But the GOP remains in firm control of state government, and every member of the Cabinet is a favorite for re-election this fall.

At the same time, Gov. Rick Scott faces a pitched re-election battle against former Gov. Charlie Crist, now running as a Democrat. Most polls show Crist holding a lead in the race, though some recent surveys also reflect a dead heat between the two.

The party shuffle is similar to Thrasher's election in February 2010, after then-Chairman Jim Greer was pushed out of the top post. Thrasher said party members and grass-roots activists "rallied behind me" in what ended up being a successful year for Republicans.

"I think the same thing's going to happen this time," he said.

But not everyone is pleased at how the field has cleared for Dougher. Javier Manjarres, a conservative blogger at "The Shark Tank" website, wrote that the RPOF was rigging the election after Blaise Ingoglia, vice chairman of the party, and Sarasota County Chairman Joe Gruters said they wouldn't run.

Majarres wrote that those two were passed over "simply because they could probably outshine Rick Scott in this election year."

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