Florida Politics

Florida GOP makes final push for Gov. Rick Scott

Buoyed by a significant cash advantage and polls that show Gov. Rick Scott either tied or leading, optimistic Florida Republicans on Saturday contended they are focused and ready for the November election.

The Republican Party of Florida met at one of World Disney World’s most expensive resorts for their annual fundraising dinner which also served as one last pep rally before the final push starts. The sellout event that attracted roughly 800 GOP activists as well as prominent donors and lobbyists featured Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Jindal, a potential candidate for president in 2016, used most of his remarks as an introduction to Republican voters who are more familiar with possible contenders from Florida, including former Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. He told the crowd about his upbringing, while also taking shots at President Barack Obama as someone who is divisive, “incompetent” and eroding the “American dream.” Jindal also sharply criticized Obama’s foreign policy, including how he has responded to Islamic state militants.

Jindal, who accompanied Scott on the last day of his two-week bus tour, also criticized Scott’s Democratic rival Charlie Crist as an opportunist who did little to help the state when it was grappling with a recession. He called Crist the “Obama hand-picked candidate of Florida.”

“We do not need to go back to the days of Charlie Crist,” Jindal said. “He’s been a Republican, he’s been an independent, he’s been a Democrat. They say he doesn’t believe in something, he believes in himself, the only thing he believes in.”

Crist campaigned in central Florida on Saturday as well and blasted Scott as a corporate governor who is more interested in helping out special interests, including insurance companies and utilities, that have aided the GOP and Scott’s re-election campaign with money.

“It’s not just about the 1 percent Rick, it’s not just about your rich buddies,” Crist said during a speech before the Florida Nurses Association.

The rising tide of negative comments from both sides is not surprising since Florida is a perennial swing state. Despite having a Republican governor, the state’s voters have backed Obama in the last two elections. Yet Democrats - other than U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson - have had trouble winning statewide elections during midterm elections, perhaps because turnout usually declines.

Republicans, who said they had $18 million in the bank at the end of August, maintain that in a non-presidential year they will have a better organization in place to inspire GOP voters to get to the polls. They say they have been knocking on doors and calling voters for months.

Scott, who said Crist left the state in a “mess,” contended during his remarks that Republicans were on the “path to a major victory” in November.

“We are so far ahead of what anybody has ever done in this state because there’s so much passion for jobs,” said Scott, who has touted his ability to create jobs.

Justin Johnson, the executive director for the state party, said recently that it’s been “remarkable” that Scott has rebounded from poll numbers that a year ago showed him trailing to Crist.

Part of that has come with the help of a barrage of television ads.

Since March, the state party, along with Scott’s own political committee, has spent in excess of $30 million on television ads compared to roughly $10 million from Crist’s side. Many have been highly critical of Crist, including one ad that features a testimonial from a man who claims they were a victim of Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and questions the friendship between Rothstein and Crist. Crist has maintained he did not know of Rothstein’s illegal activities. He also has denied that Rothstein’s campaign contributions to him influenced any of his actions while served as governor.

The Republican Party has refused to identify the man or give any information to prove that the information in the ad is accurate.

When asked about it on Saturday, Scott said the man is a “real person.” He would not say why the campaign is refusing to disclose any information about it.

“The ad speaks for itself,” Scott said.

Crist maintained that turnout in November will be better than some are predicting for a midterm election. And he said that it may be due to the ads the Crist campaign is getting ready to release.

“The ads aren’t done, maybe they will inspire a little at the end,” Crist said. “Stay tuned.”

Follow the AP’s Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout