Gov. Rick Scott made a final swing through the I-4 corridor on Monday, hoping to motivate voters in one of the state’s most politically significant areas as polls showed the Republican incumbent in a virtual tie with his Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist.
Two other Republican governors — and prospective presidential contenders in 2016 — joined Scott in what has become one of the most expensive, nastiest and closest governor’s races in the country. Two years ahead of another election in which the state’s bevy of electoral votes could decide who occupies the White House, both parties have brought in big-ticket names to try to lock up the Governor’s Mansion.
“Over the course of the next 24 hours, I will suggest, the future of America is in the balance. And Florida is the epicenter of that,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry told a cheering crowd of about 500 supporters at The Villages. “Florida and what Floridians are going to do between now and the close of voting tomorrow will set America on the course that it’s going to be on.”
Despite the tightness of the race as voters get ready to go to the polls Tuesday, Scott projected confidence as he rallied residents at the massive retirement community, a longtime GOP stronghold in Central Florida.
“They’re going to announce at 8 o’clock that we are going to kick Charlie’s rear. And he deserves it. Because he doesn’t worry about our families,” Scott said in a shot reflecting how personal the race has become.
Both a campaign event at The Villages and one at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Orlando — which drew about 200 to 300 people — were filled with red-meat attacks on Crist. Republican Congressman Richard Nugent said the man he called “Chuck” was “a fake, a fraud and a phony.” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal told of meeting Crist for the first time in 2007, when one Crist’s aides went looking to plug in a fan that famously follows the Democrat around.
“I’ll be honest: Charlie Crist — he’s a strange fellow,” Jindal said.
Scott continued to wale away at his predecessor at the Orlando event.
“Charlie lost jobs, Charlie raised tuition, Charlie raised taxes, Charlie lost homes,” Scott said. “We’ve done just the opposite. We’re heading in the right direction.”
But there were differences between the rallies. President Barack Obama’s name was invoked more frequently — always as a negative — at The Villages than in Orlando, a key swing area in the election. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico House Speaker Jenniffer González Colón spoke in Orlando, and Scott delivered a lengthy portion of his speech in Spanish — an acknowledgment of the Hispanic migration that is rapidly changing the area.
Scott’s campaign argues that the GOP has banked a significant advantage over Democrats among voters who have already cast their votes, either through absentee ballots or early voting. But there’s still no way to measure whether and how the two candidates’ ground games will shape up in a race that is all but certain to be decided by turnout.
Both sides have tried to gin up their bases — or discourage the other party’s voters by churning out a swell of negative ads. Many, but by no means all, of those commercials have come from Scott, as the governor built up a huge war chest and poured millions of dollars of his own money into a closing onslaught of negative ads.
Villages resident Jean Davis said she was upset about Crist’s attacks on Scott — and voted on the first day.
“(Scott) doesn’t tell fibs, which has driven me crazy about this election, all the fibs and lies that have been told about him,” she said.
Pat Phillips, who along with his wife, Barbara, rode to the Orlando event on his motorcycle, said Scott has followed through on his pledge during the 2010 campaign to get the economy back on the right track. Scott frequently mentions that the state has seen more than 600,000 jobs created over the last four years.
“I think he’s managed the state like a business, and in doing so, I think he’s accomplished the things he promised,” said Pat Phillips.
He and his wife also voted early.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida