Florida Democrats have put former NBA legends Dwyane Wade and Grant Hill at the top of their wish list as they look for a strong candidate to run against Sen. Rick Scott in the 2024 election.
There have been strong efforts led by Democratic donors to get both men to consider stepping into politics, but three sources familiar with the efforts say the push hasn’t been from the state or national parties, according to NBC News. Some donors feel recruiting a candidate who is popular throughout the state and has the ability to self-fund their own campaign could reset the political narrative.
The Democrats in Florida have not won a Senate race since the 2012 reelection of Bill Nelson, who was defeated by Scott in 2018. They also reportedly have not held the governor’s mansion or either chamber of the Legislature since the 1990s.
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“Grant Hill has great name ID. He would raise a boatload of money and is one of the smartest guys you will ever meet,” said John Morgan to NBC News, an Orlando-based trial attorney and national Democratic donor, who has spoken directly with Hill about his desire for him to run. “Grant Hill would beat the s— out of Rick Scott.”
Morgan reportedly brought the idea up of Hill running for Senate during a Sunday night dinner with Larry Grisolano, a partner and the CEO of the David Axelrod-founded Democratic consulting firm AKPD Message and Media. The discussion took place at Bob Mandell’s house. Mandell served as the Obama administration’s ambassador to Luxembourg from 2011 to 2016.
Hill played seven seasons with the Orlando Magic and reportedly still lives in the Orlando area. He campaigned with Hillary Clinton in 2016 in Jacksonville and has criticized former President Donald Trump over disrespectful comments he made about the city of Baltimore. Hill hasn’t shown political aspirations in the past.
“That’s what Larry and I talked about — Grant Hill,” Morgan said. “I’m not sure it’s his time, but he would be great. He’s competitive. I think he sees LeBron James as a billionaire and Magic Johnson almost a billionaire, and it gets his competitive juices flowing. I am not sure he is done with business.”
The party has also targeted Wade as a prime candidate. The former NBA star spent 13 seasons with the Miami Heat but recently opened up about moving his family out of the state because Florida Republicans filed more than 15 anti-trans bills alone during the 2023 legislative session. Wade has a 15-year-old transgender daughter.
“Dwyane Wade is a Florida legend, whose leadership past and present has a lot of folks in our state sending feelers out,” said Ray Paultre to NBC News, the executive director of the Florida Alliance, a progressive donor group that plays a significant role in Florida Democratic politics. “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.”
He continued, “There are different groups talking to a diverse set of potential candidates — all of which would be great options,” Paultre added. “I won’t speak to where each of those conversations are, but I can confirm that there are organized efforts to engage everyone you’ve mentioned.”
But the Democratic Party donors know that both would be a longshot to land.
“Top donors and party leaders know they need different kinds of candidates with pre-existing profiles to mount statewide campaigns,” said a veteran Florida Democratic operative, who was granted anonymity to discuss candidate recruiting strategy with NBC. “There’s a short list of retired athletes and business leaders who could fit that bill, and Dwyane Wade tops that list. There are definitely conversations underway about recruiting Wade or a retired athlete like him to challenge Scott.”
Wade’s and Hill’s names being thrown out there on the Democratic wish list prompted Twitter users to suggest Florida Democrats are trying to use the same model Georgia Republicans did when they chose Herschel Walker as their candidate to run for U.S. Senate to represent Georgia in 2022.
“Little Marco has a short memory. Also, Grant Hill is an incredibly intelligent and actual decent human being. He’s no Herschel Walker,” wrote one Twitter user.
“Please stop! We need real politicians not celebrities,” wrote another Twitter user.
Austin Dickey wrote, “So grant hill will be the dems Herschel Walker?”
Another user suggested that they are just picking “the most popular negro.”
Despite Wade and Hill being on their wishlist, nothing has been confirmed by either man and the Democratic Party knows that they would be leaning toward a more traditional candidate with a background in politics.
A more realistic list of potential Democratic candidates to run against Scott is: Brevard County School Board member Jennifer Jenkins; Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried; former Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy; Miami-area state Sen. Shevrin Jones; former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Miami; former Tampa-area state attorney Andrew Warren.