In a campaign swing through North Florida, Govs. Rick Scott and Chris Christie of New Jersey held an energetic campaign rally with 250 supporters at a historic courthouse in Wakulla County, just south of Tallahassee.
Amid chants of “four more years” in support of Scott’s re-election campaign, both governors found a welcoming crowd in the small town of Crawfordville, a deeply conservative town of just under 4,000 residents known for its rural pastures and is just a short distance away from idyllic state parks.
Touting his economic record amid a newly resurgent Florida economy, Scott spoke of his record on job creation, tax cuts, and reiterated a new campaign promise to cut taxes by another $1 billion over two years, a plan that has drawn skepticism by state legislators and economists over its feasibility.
“We are on the right track,” said Scott.
Scott laid out a vision for Florida, saying, “This will be the number one place to get a job, get a great education, and live the American Dream.”
The political spotlight was just as much on Scott’s Democratic opponent, former Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist, as it was on the Florida governor. Scott painted Crist as a “smooth politician and a slick talker” while also characterizing Crist’s previous term as Republican governor as one of “more spending, more debt, and more taxes.”
During his earlier political career as Florida attorney general and governor, Crist was a Republican. He ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 but lost in the Republican primary. Crist then ran as an independent but was ultimately defeated in the general election by current Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
With his trademark intensity and spirited style, Gov. Christie also addressed the crowd, slamming Crist as an unreliable party-switching opportunist.
“There is no clearer choice in America than this one,” said Christie, referring to the Florida gubernatorial race. “While you have honesty and integrity in Rick Scott, you don’t with Charlie Crist.”
“It’s a close race. I don’t think Florida does anything but close elections,” Christie said.
Further scolding Crist, the 2016 potential presidential contender also recalled Crist’s past failed campaign for U.S. Senator and said “the last refuge” he could find was to run for governor as a Democratic candidate.
“How can you count on somebody who looks in the mirror and doesn’t even know who he is,” Christie said. “He doesn’t know what he is for.”
The sudden jolt of Republican energy into Scott’s campaign reflected the importance of the gubernatorial race to national Republicans. Recent campaign finance reports with the Federal Election Commission show that Christie, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has poured $11 million into the race in an effort to keep the key presidential battleground state in Republican hands heading into the 2016 presidential election.
Polls have shown this to be a close race. A recent Tampa Bay Times poll released Sept. 2 has shown Scott with a five-point lead, drawing 40.9 percent of likely voters to Crist’s 35.7 percent. Libertarian Adrian Wyllie had 6.3 percent of the vote. The poll was a telephone survey of 814 registered Florida voters likely to vote in November with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Throughout much of the race, Crist was consistently ahead in election polls as Scott’s approval ratings reached new lows, but Scott’s recent barrage of televisions ads against Crist have bolstered his poll numbers and with it his chances for re-election in November in what is said to be one of the nation’s most expensive gubernatorial races ever. Estimates have the race easily surpassing $100 million in spending by both sides.
by JOSEPH ZEBALLOS / contributing writer