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Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade considered by Democrats to run for Senate in Florida


NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill have topped the recruiting lists of some Florida Democrats looking for a strong candidate to run against Sen. Rick Scott in 2024.

There have been separate active efforts to get the two to consider forays into state politics, which have not been motivated by either the state or national parties, three sources familiar with the matter said.

Party operatives and donors see the need for a moonshot candidate to buck the tide of Republican dominance in the state, in which most recently Gov. Ron DeSantis won re-election by a double-digit margin. Yet even they recognize that getting either is a long shot.

“Grant Hill has a great name ID. He would collect a boatload of cash and is one of the smartest guys you’ll ever meet,” said John Morgan, an Orlando-based attorney and Democratic national donor, who spoke directly with Hill about wanting to run, “Grant Hill would beat Rick Scott’s s—.”

Scott’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s much more likely that a more traditional candidate — such as current or former members of Congress or the state legislature — will end up being the Democratic nominee against Scott, an incumbent governor and former two-term governor with the ability to self-finance. But some party members see recruiting a candidate who is hugely well-known and popular in the state — and who has the ability to fund themselves — as an option that could help reset the political narrative.

Morgan raised the idea of ​​Hill’s Senate bid during a Sunday night dinner with Larry Grisolano, partner and CEO of the Democratic consulting firm AKPD Message and Media, founded by David Axelrod, at the home of Bob Mandell, who was the adviser to the Obama administration. ambassador to Luxembourg from 2011 to 2016. Morgan said he was rooted in the idea that few other Democrats in Florida could challenge Scott and help the party regain its footing.

“That’s what Larry and I talked about – Grant Hill,” Morgan said. “I’m not sure it’s his time, but he would be great. He is competitive. I think he sees LeBron James as a billionaire and Magic Johnson almost a billionaire, and that gets his competitive juices flowing. I’m not sure he’s done with business.

Hill, who played seven seasons with the Orlando Magic and lives in the Orlando area, hasn’t been regularly political publicly. He campaigned with Hillary Clinton in Jacksonville in 2016 and criticized former President Donald Trump for comments he made in 2019 against the city of Baltimore.

Hill did not respond to a text message seeking comment. He and Morgan are business partners.

Democratic donor groups have openly discussed recruiting Wade, who played 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, to run for the Senate.

Along with having star power in the state, Wade has become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. Her 15-year-old daughter, Zaya, is a model and transgender activist. Wade’s support for his daughter comes at a time steeped in culture war in which Republicans across the country have filed legislation targeting this community. Florida Republicans introduced more than 15 anti-trans bills during the 2023 legislative session, which Wade says prompted him to leave the state.

“My family wouldn’t be accepted or feel comfortable there,” Wade said on Showtime’s “Headliners with Rachel Nichols” last month. “And so that’s one of the reasons I don’t live there.”

Democrats familiar with the effort to coax Wade into politics say he would be a “dream candidate,” although he is unlikely.

“Dwyane Wade is a Florida legend, whose past and present leadership has many people in our state sending out antennae,” said Ray Paultre, executive director of the Florida Alliance, a progressive donor group that plays a role important in Florida Democratic politics. “We have seen former athletes, in both parties, bring something special to the political landscape. He hasn’t been officially approached, but he’s on the list of four or five dream candidates to challenge Rick Scott.

“There are different groups that speak to a diverse set of potential candidates — all of whom would be great options,” Paultre added. “I won’t go into where each of these conversations are, but I can confirm that there are organized efforts to engage everyone you mentioned.”

Wade could not be reached for comment.

Florida Democrats haven’t won a Senate race since the 2012 re-election of Bill Nelson, whom Scott defeated in 2018. They haven’t occupied the governor’s mansion or any chambers of the Legislative Assembly for years 1990.

“Major donors and party leaders know they need different types of candidates with pre-existing profiles to mount statewide campaigns,” said a veteran Florida Democratic agent, who won the anonymity to discuss candidate recruitment strategy. “There is a short list of retired athletes and business leaders who could respond to this bill, and Dwyane Wade is at the top of the list. There are certainly discussions going on about recruiting Wade or of a retired athlete like him to challenge Scott.

Outside of the star power of a duo of NBA legends, there is a growing list of current and former chosen ones populating what is considered a more traditional shortlist.

Among the newest names on the list is Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins, who has been a leading Democratic counterweight in the growing culture war fights at the school board level. She was selected to be Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist’s running mate in 2016, and she served as backup to Crist and Democratic Senate candidate Val Demings.

DeSantis put Jenkins on a list of 14 school board members across the state that he’s aiming for in 2024, and she’s spoken out in support of LGBTQ rights. In October, she wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post about the growing hostility facing school board members as education becomes a high-profile culture war issue.

“As a progressive in a red county, I expected to be targeted by conservatives; I never expected to be called a Nazi and a pedophile and to endure months of threats, harassment and intimidation,” she wrote. “But school board meetings in Florida and across the country, including in Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Tennessee, have increasingly erupted over politicized issues such as masks, toilets and critical race theory.

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is also reaching out to a handful of potential candidates, including former Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who considered running for the Senate last year.

Officials have contacted an intermediary but have not yet spoken to him directly, a person familiar with the talks said. Murphy spoke to Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried about a possible offer, the person said.

In a phone interview, Murphy did not rule out running for the seat, but warned it would be a mistake for anyone to run without ‘some assurances’ of full National Party support for a serious campaign. . Some Democrats were disappointed with the level of assistance provided to then-House member Demings during his failed Senate campaign last year.

“It would be foolish for anyone to be the sacrificial lamb. They’re trying to recruit here, but there’s a big difference between a recruiting win for Chuck Schumer and a real effort to win the state or at least rebuild the state,” Murphy said, referring to the majority leader. in the Senate.

DSCC officials declined to discuss details of their recruiting efforts. But Democrats in Washington are eager to put Scott on defense as Republicans seek to flip seats held by Democrats in other states.

“Everything Rick Scott did as he tried to make a name for himself in Washington made him more vulnerable in Florida,” DSCC communications director David Bergstein said. “His agenda to cut — and cut programs like Social Security and Medicare — is toxic to voters deciding a general election in a state like Florida.”

Another potential candidate is State Sen. Shev Jones, D-Miami, who is highly regarded within the party. He said he was trying to recover from “a brutal legislative session” but did not rule out a race.

“In the coming months, I will sit down with my family, my political team, and some trusted community stakeholders to assess how I can better serve Floridians, whether in the Florida Senate or elsewhere,” he said. he declares.

Other candidates for the exam include former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami, who now works for Giffords, the gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona, which has survived a gunshot wound to the head in a 2011 assassination attempt. She said people had asked her to come forward but there were “a lot of things to consider”.

“Right now, my primary focus is on working across the state and the country to reduce the gun violence crisis we face,” she said.

The name of one person who is likely to pass on a run is Andrew Warren, the former Tampa-area state’s attorney who rose to national prominence last year when DeSantis suspended him largely for a pledge he signed not to enforce the 15-week abortion in Florida. to forbid. Warren challenged his suspension in court.

“I am honored that people see me as the right leader to represent our great state in the United States Senate, but right now my focus is on standing up against the attacks on our freedoms and values ​​from DeSantis and the radical right and ‘to be reinstated to the job I was elected to do,’ he said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.