In Florida governor’s race, no limit on nastiness

08/20/2014 6:48 PM

08/20/2014 6:49 PM

Gov. Rick Scott on Monday ramped up an asphalt agenda, calling for more lanes on Interstate 295 in Jacksonville and millions more for airports and seaports.

Charlie Crist voted early in his hometown of St. Petersburg, welcoming President Obama’s future help on the trail.

And both candidates for governor launched new TV ads that for sheer viciousness drowned out anything either man said or did to start off the week before Florida’s primary.

It may have seemed like just another day in the long, brutal slog to the Governor’s Mansion, but no two days are alike.

Scott’s campaign last week ended a monthlong run of a TV commercial in Miami, and on Monday we found out it featured a Tampa business owner convicted of human smuggling four years ago.

BrowardBulldog.org reported that the man in Scott’s ad, Maikel Duarte Torres, tried to help ferry 10 Cuban migrants to Miami from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten and was freed from jail on a promise that he never return to St. Maarten.

He now runs a market on Hillsborough Boulevard in Tampa. The story barely made a ripple.

What got more attention was Scott’s new TV ad harping on an old theme of Crist’s connections to imprisoned swindler Scott Rothstein, who “bought a governor,” the ad says.

The spot noted Rothstein’s uncorroborated claims that he directly influenced Crist’s choices for judgeships, with image after image of Rothstein and Crist locked in moments of mutual admiration. (Rothstein was a mega-donor to Crist and the Republican Party before his Ponzi scheme collapsed.) The ad ends with a deep-voiced narrator telling viewers that Charlie Crist is “for sale.”

With equal subtlety, Crist fired back with an ad accusing Scott of having “lied repeatedly” about school funding and pleading “the fifth 75 times to avoid jail for Medicare fraud.”

While it’s true that Scott took the fifth 75 times to avoid self-incrimination, the case had nothing to do with fraud at the Columbia/HCA hospital chain Scott headed.

As Scott campaigned Monday in Jacksonville for more transportation spending, Crist cast his vote for governor in St. Petersburg: “I voted for Charlie Crist today,” he told reporters, calling early voting “so convenient, it’s nice and quiet. You have the opportunity to really think it through.”

Crist said he hopes to be campaigning side by side with the president.

“I hope so,” he said. “I hope everybody does.”

And of course, another day, another poll.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce, a business group that strongly backs Scott’s re-election, released a poll of 627 likely voters that was an anomaly, showing Scott with a 6-point advantage over Crist, 41 percent to 35 percent, with Libertarian Adrian Wyllie polling at 4 percent.

What was equally surprising in the chamber poll was that 43 percent of voters believe that the unemployment rate has gone down under Scott. That means nearly six in 10 voters — all the others — apparently don’t know the unemployment rate has declined during Scott’s term (it was 6.2 percent for July, unchanged from June).

No subject commands Scott’s attention nearly as much as jobs. If that number is right, it suggests Scott may want to talk less about the other Scott (Rothstein) and more about jobs.

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