ORLANDO (CBS4) - Former state Senator Rod Smith has been tapped to lead Florida's Democratic Party.
A former prosecutor from the Gainesville area, Smith will replace former Congresswoman Karen Thurman. Smith's leadership will be critical after one of the worst election years ever for the party. Democrats lost all five statewide seats on the ballot and lost ground in the House, Senate and in Congress.
In the next presidential election, Florida's 29 electoral votes will be critical as Republicans redraw the state's political districts and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, the lone Democratic statewide office holder, fights to retain his seat.
Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said Republicans did an excellent job of nationalizing the election, so while Democrats argued that the GOP leaders controlling Florida government "screwed up" the state, the message was lost.
"Today is the end of our period of mourning. I have pouted long enough" Smith told activists on Saturday. "From this day forward, we will not again be dispirited or discouraged in reaching our eventual goal of turning this state around in 2012. We must think anew today, we must act anew today and we must move toward victory."
Smith identified three major priorities for the state party: the reelections of President Barack Obama and Nelson in 2012, and ensuring that the legislative task of redrawing new congressional and legislative districts yields fair districts that represent the people's will and the diversity of Florida.
To achieve those goals, Smith said the party needs to start reaching out to Hispanics and younger voters and do a better job of getting out early votes.
"We all know what a fighter Rod Smith is and we are in for the fight of our lives," said Alex Sink. "We will bring new people and more energy to this party to make sure that we are ready two years from now."
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.