This weekend’s Lincoln Day Dinner first test of Pinellas GOP’s new leadership

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It is where Charlie Crist endorsed John McCain, putting the Arizona Senator on track to winning Florida’s 2008 presidential primary. It is one of the first places where Marco Rubio found the spotlight. It is where governors and congressmen and any other politicians interested in one day capturing the imagination of Tampa Bay Republicans comes to.

It is also where tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars are raised for local campaigns.

It is the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee‘s annual Lincoln Day Dinner — the premiere event of arguably the best organized county party in the state.

Over the last decade, under PCREC Chairmen Paul Bedinghaus, Tony DiMatteo and Jay Beyrouti, the Lincoln Day Dinner could be counted on for raising at least one hundred thousand dollars for the party. Prominent donors, like A.K. Desai, Jim Holton, Dr. Miguel Fana, and Paul Gallo would compete with each other, bidding for the prime tables near the podium. Congressman Bill Young’s campaign once purchased three tables at $10,000 a piece at a LDD honoring the senior statesman. 

But that was then. The question is: What is now?

The Pinellas GOP is now in the hands of longtime party hand Michael Guju, who served as Vice Chair under Beyrouti.  Guju is a practicing lawyer for 28 years; he has a real estate practice, as well as several title companies. He has been involved in Pinellas politics since he moved here in 1996.

By all accounts, Guju is a decent, hardworking guy. But is he the fundraiser and, dare I say, the showman that DiMatteo and Beyrouti were? 

“The most important day of Mike’s chairmanship,” says one member of the PCREC who asked to remain anonymous, “will be the day after the Dinner when all of the checks are counted.”

This weekend’s Lincoln Day Dinner is Guju’s first real test as the new chair of the Pinellas GOP. Headlining the event is Florida Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi. Emceeing the dinner will be radio personality Mark Larsen.

While I like the choice of Larsen as an emcee (there’s nothing worse than a bleary-eyed ol’ pol running the show), I won’t pretend to like the choice of Scott keynoting the Dinner. If there’s any county where Scott is not exactly welcomed, much less popular, it’s Pinellas. But, he is the Governor, so he pretty much gets to speak where he pleases.

But that doesn’t mean the donors will pay to hear him speak.

I’ll wait until after the weekend to ask Guju how the event did, but, the LDD may bring in less — and not for anything to do with Guju’s efforts. Several of the major donors in the past, like Desai, are all but out of the picture. Some, like Holton and Gallo, are not as involved in the party as in years past. And some of the elected officials, like Congressman Young, may not be able to participate at the same levels they have at past Lincoln Day Dinners.

For the Lincoln Day Dinner to be successful, Guju and Co. will have to raise at least $75,000, while keeping expenses in line. That may not be the same kind of haul brought in under DiMatteo and Beyrouti, but this is not the same Pinellas GOP as it was under them. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.