Chiles may step into Florida's governor race

Alex Sink’s hopes for an effortless waltz to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination may be dashed.

Lawton “Bud” Chiles III, the son of the late governor, is seriously looking at running against Sink in the Democratic primary for governor. He has been talking to friends and family across the state.

“He’s got some very strong convictions and a yearning for a Florida that was simpler and more about solving its problems than what we see today,” his wife, Kitty Chiles, said Friday. “The family is talking. That’s where we are right now. A lot of this is a result of the encouragement he’s gotten over the past year.”

Much like his father’s famous 1,000-mile walk from the Panhandle to the Keys, the 57-year-old Chiles has been walking across Florida much of the past year promoting children’s issues through a “Worst to First” initiative of the Lawton Chiles Foundation he leads. The Tallahassee resident could not be reached for comment Friday but has been vocal in criticizing Florida’s leadership and the direction the state is heading.

“If I had to put odds on it, I’d put it at 80-20 that he’s likely to be a candidate for governor in 2010,” said Tallahassee public relations consultant Ron Sachs, who used to work for Gov. Chiles.

Chiles, a real estate investor, had considered running for chief financial officer this year, but ruled it out.

He started to run for governor in 2006 but ran afoul of a state constitutional requirement that the governor be a Florida resident for at least the past seven years.

Chiles left Florida in 1993 to be a vice president of Hope Worldwide, a charity that provides education and health care for the poor abroad. He moved back to Florida from New Jersey in 2003.

Chief Financial Officer Sink has more than $5 million in her campaign account, widespread support from the Democratic establishment, and would be the heavy favorite against Chiles, a first-time candidate.

“Florida Democrats are united behind Alex Sink and her campaign’s momentum continues to grow,” said Sink campaign spokeswoman Kyra Jennings. “Alex will bring her decades of real world experience to solving our state’s toughest problems and getting Floridians back to work.”

Added Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff: “Democrats across Florida are energized by Alex Sink’s plan for our state and her business background she is the leader we need to get our state back on track, and we will continue fighting every day to ensure her victory this November.”

Still, Chiles has plenty of political experience and contacts across Florida and at the very least could force Sink to fight for the nomination.

She has faced complaints about being too cautious and lacking a clear message, and her campaign has undergone a number of staff shakeups.

The deadline for qualifying for state office is June 18, but Mrs. Chiles said the decision would come “pretty quick.”