Florida Democrats aren’t the only ones choosing a new leader in Orlando next week.

Florida Republicans will gather at the same time Saturday morning in a nearby hotel to pick a new chairman, and Christian Ziegler plans to campaign hard for the job until the end.

Ziegler, the GOP state committeeman for Sarasota County, already has put 8,000 miles on his rental car crisscrossing the state to meet with the 256 members of the party’s executive committee who vote in the race. Ziegler made sure the rental agreement was for unlimited miles.

“Enterprise is not going to be happy with me when I bring this bad boy back,” he joked. “8,000 miles you’re supposed to get two oil changes so hopefully this thing doesn’t light on fire.”

Ziegler toured one voter’s pawn shop and ate at a Chinese buffet in the Panhandle with another. He even visited one in the hospital. Some of the visits have lasted for hours.

“I’ve sat on their couches, I’ve visited them in the hospital, I’ve gone out to the dinner with them,” he said. “That’s how you win. It’s like Iowa.”

Ziegler’s pitch: Current party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia is stretched too thin as a businessman, state representative and party leader. The party needs a fulltime chairman, he says, one who has no potential conflict between raising money for his own campaigns and the party.

Ingoglia and his allies respond by pointing to the party’s dominance across Florida during the last election cycle. That success speaks for itself, they say. A raft of party leaders have lined up behind Ingoglia, including heavy hitters such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

If Ziegler wins it would be a big upset, but he’s optimistic.

“I have my vote count,” he said. “Even on a conservative estimate I think I have a great chance to win this but it is going to be a close race. Anytime you’re going against an incumbent it’s difficult.”

 

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