nba legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill have rocketed to the top of 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 both to consider forays into state politics, which have not been pushed by state or national parties, three sources familiar with the situation said.
Party officials and donors see the need for a moonshot candidate to reverse the trend of Republican dominance in the state, where Gov. Ron DeSantis most recently won re-election by a double-digit margin. However, even they acknowledge that getting any of them is a long shot.
“Grant Hill has great name identification. He would raise a ton of money and he’s one of the smartest guys he’ll ever meet,” said John Morgan, an Orlando-based trial attorney and national Democratic donor, who has spoken directly with Hill about wanting him to run. «Grant Hill would beat the crap out of Rick Scott.»
Scott’s team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A more traditional candidate, such as current or former members of Congress or the state Legislature, is much more likely to end up as the Democratic nominee against Scott, a two-term incumbent and former governor with the ability to self-finance. But some in the party see recruiting a candidate who is overwhelmingly well-known and popular in the state, and who has the ability to self-finance, as an option that could help reset the political narrative.
Morgan raised the idea of Hill’s run for Senate over dinner Sunday night with Larry Grisolano, a partner and CEO of the Democratic consultancy AKPD Message and Media, founded by David Axelrod, at the home of Bob Mandell, who He was president of the Obama administration. ambassador to Luxembourg from 2011 to 2016. Morgan said he is rooted in the idea that few 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 it would be great. It’s competitive. I think he sees LeBron James as a billionaire and Magic Johnson almost as a billionaire, and that gets the competitive juices flowing from him. I’m not sure he’s done with the business.»
Hill, who played seven seasons with the Orlando Magic and lives in the Orlando area, hasn’t regularly made public policy. He campaigned with Hillary Clinton in Jacksonville in 2016 and has criticized former President Donald Trump. for comments he made in 2019 criticizing 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 the idea of recruiting Wade, who played 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, to run for the Senate.
Beyond having star power in the state, Wade has become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. His 15-year-old daughter, Zaya, is a model and transgender activist. Wade’s support of his daughter comes at a culture war-infused moment when Republicans across the country have introduced legislation targeting that community. Florida Republicans introduced more than 15 anti-trans bills during the 2023 legislative session alone, which Wade says prompted him to leave the state.
“My family would not be accepted or comfortable there,” Wade said in Showtime’s “Headliners with Rachel Nichols” last month. «And that’s one of the reasons I don’t live there.»
Democrats familiar with the effort to convince Wade to enter politics say he would be a «dream candidate,» if unlikely.
“Dwyane Wade is a Florida legend whose past and present leadership has many people in our state sending out polls,” said Ray Paultre, executive director of the Florida Alliance, a progressive donor group that plays an important role in the Florida Democratic Party. policy. “We have seen former athletes, in both parties, bring something special to the political landscape. He hasn’t been officially approached, but he is on the list of four or five dream candidates to challenge Rick Scott.
“There are different groups talking to a diverse set of potential candidates, all of whom would be great options,” Paultre added. «I won’t go into where each of those conversations are, but I can confirm that there are organized efforts to engage everyone you’ve mentioned.»
Wade could not be reached for comment.
Democrats in Florida have not won a Senate race since the re-election of Bill Nelson in 2012, whom Scott defeated in 2018. They have not held the Governor’s Mansion or any chamber of the Legislature since the 1990s.
“Major donors and party leaders know that they need different types of candidates with pre-existing profiles to run campaigns across the state,” said a veteran Democratic agent from Florida, who was granted anonymity to discuss the recruiting strategy. of candidates. “There is a short list of retired athletes and business leaders who could fit that bill, and Dwyane Wade tops that list. There are definitely talks going on about recruiting Wade or 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 elected officials populating what is considered a more traditional short list.
Among the newer names on the list is Jennifer Jenkins, a member of the Brevard County School Board, who has been a leading Democratic counterweight to growing culture war fights at the school board level. She was vetted to be the running mate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist in 2016, and was a surrogate for both Crist and Democratic Senate candidate Val Demings.
DeSantis put Jenkins on a list of 14 statewide school board members he is targeting in 2024, and she has been vocal in her support for LGBTQ rights. In October, she wrote an opinion piece in the washington post about the growing hostility facing school board members as education becomes a major issue in the culture war.
“As a progressive in a red county, I expected to be targeted by conservatives; I did not expect to be called a Nazi and a pedophile and subjected to 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 like masks, toilets, and critical education theory. race».
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 her directly, a person familiar with the discussions said. Murphy spoke with 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 that it would be wrong for someone to run without «some guarantees» of full support from the national party for a serious campaign. Some Democrats were disappointed by the level of assistance provided to Demings, then a member of the House, in his failed Senate campaign last year.
“It would be foolish for someone to be the sacrificial lamb. They’re trying to recruit here, but there’s a big difference between a Chuck Schumer draft victory and a real effort to win the state or at least rebuild the state,” Murphy said, referring to the Senate Majority Leader.
DSCC officials declined to discuss the details of their recruiting efforts. But Democrats in Washington are eager to put Scott on the defensive as Republicans seek to flip Democratic-held seats in other states.
“Everything Rick Scott has done while trying to make a name for himself in Washington has made him more vulnerable in Florida,” said DSCC director of communications David Bergstein. “His agenda of his 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 senator Shev Jones, D-Miami, who is highly regarded in the party. He said he is trying to recover «from a brutal legislative session» but did not rule out a run.
“In the coming months I will be sitting down with my family, my political team and some trusted community stakeholders to assess how I can best serve Floridians, whether in the Florida Senate or elsewhere,” he said.
Others considering offers 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, who survived a gunshot wound to the head in a assassination attempt in 2011. She said people have asked her to run but there is «a lot to consider.»
“Right now my primary focus is working across the state and across the country to reduce the gun violence crisis we face,” he said.
The name of one person likely to resign is Andrew Warren, the former Tampa-area state attorney who gained national notoriety last year when DeSantis suspended him in large part over a promise he signed not to enforce 15-week abortions in Florida. prohibition. Warren has challenged his suspension in court.
“I am honored that people see me as the right leader to represent our great state in the US Senate, but right now my focus is fighting DeSantis’ attacks on our freedoms and values. and the radical right and be reinstated in the job I was elected to do,” he said.