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Dems narrow race for state party chief

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The political intrigue over the election of a new leader for Florida Democrats continued Friday, as one top contender survived a rules challenge while another was eliminated.

Stephen Bittel, a prominent party fundraiser from Miami-Dade County, kept his candidacy alive when the Florida Democratic Party's judicial subcommittee unanimously rejected a challenge of Bittel's election as a committeeman in his home county, according to party spokesman Max Steele.

Bittel, a wealthy Coconut Grove developer, won election to the county post last month --- which makes him eligible to serve as the state chairman --- only after the sitting committeeman resigned, a move that cleared the path for Bittel.

Alan Clendenin, a retired air traffic controller from Hillsborough County, was less successful when the party's judicial subcommittee on Friday ruled him ineligible to be elected chairman.

Steele said the vote was 5-0, with two members abstaining.

Clendenin's candidacy had been challenged because, after losing a race for a committeeman post in Hillsborough County, he moved to Bradford County and won election to a county post there.

Clendenin, a vice chairman for the Florida Democrats, narrowly lost the last party leadership race to Allison Tant in 2013.

While Clendenin was eliminated, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard of Miami-Dade County remains in the race.

Bullard moved to Gadsden County and won election to a county post there after he lost the Miami-Dade committeeman race to Bittel last month.

Other candidates in the contest to succeed Tant are Lisa King, a committeewoman from Duval County, and Leah Carius, chairwoman of the Osceola County Democrats. Democrats meeting in Orlando will vote Saturday to decide who will be the state's next party chief.

There are 1,204 potential votes at stake, with the voting weighted to the major Democratic counties, including Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Hillsborough.