Politics

Nan Rich defends viability as gubernatorial candidate, rips Crist for not debating

 

dsmiley@MiamiHerald.com

Unable so far to goad Charlie Crist into a debate, underdog gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich continued Friday to attack the former governor’s credibility as a Democrat while downplaying questions about her chances in a general election.

Rich, a former state senator from Weston and Crist’s lone opponent in the Democratic primary, compared Crist to a ghost during a morning forum with the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Crist himself spoke during their convention Thursday at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables and defended his record as governor, back when he was a Republican.

Whoever wins the primary will face off in November with Gov. Rick Scott, who declined an invitation to speak at the event.

“We need to make sure we don’t have two Republicans running in the gubernatorial election,” Rich said in response to one of several questions from South Florida Sun Sentinel opinions editor Rosemary Goudreau and AP reporter Brendan Farrington.

Rich also took shots at Scott, saying he cost the state 122,000 jobs by not pushing the Legislature to approve an expansion of Medicaid. She said the state’s economy continues to rely on “lower paying service industry jobs” tied to an economy based on retirees and tourism, despite Scott’s touting of jobs growth.

But she focused most of her attention on her primary opponent, opening by likening him to an “apparition who has no solid substance.”

Where Crist touted his record as governor Thursday, Rich tried to savage it. She said he oversaw an expansion of Florida’s controversial school-voucher program, appointed conservative justices to the Florida Supreme Court and opposed adoption by gay couples. She said Crist was also against the Affordable Care Act during a failed bid for the U.S. Senate.

“I don’t think people believe you can change 180 degrees on every single issue and have people trust that,” she said.

Rich said she had hoped to debate the former governor in Coral Gables. But ripping Crist’s record without him in the room will have to do. The better-funded, better-known Crist has repeatedly declined her challenges to debate, saying Thursday that Scott is expected to raise $100 million and “I really don’t have the luxury to take my eye off the ball.”

That’s a slight to Rich, who has spent more than two years criss-crossing the state on a campaign for governor. But for all her efforts, she’s raised just over a half-million dollars between her campaign and a political committee, Citizens for Progressive Florida. Crist, on the other hand, raised $500,000 in a single contribution to his political action committee in June from the Democratic Governor’s Association, and has raised more than $13 million total.

Goudreau on Friday raised that point, saying that “after close to two years the needle has barely moved in the bank account and in the polls. Why is that?”

Rich, 72, responded that if former House majority leader Eric Cantor can be beat by an upstart, so can Crist.

“This grassroots campaign I’m running has increased my name recognition in many ways and it may not show in the polls yet but I believe it will,” Rich responded. “There is momentum building and we’ll see on election day.”

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