State Politics

Charlie Crist kicks off campaign tour with stop at Pasco home

Charlie Crist
Charlie Crist MCT

Charlie Crist kicked off a “kitchen table tour” with a stop at a Pasco County home Monday morning to talk about insurance and utility rates as polls show the Democrat locked in a virtual dead heat with Gov. Rick Scott.

Crist chatted with Holiday retirees J.M. and Marge Gibbons in the Key Vista development after the couple responded to an email blast from Crist’s campaign last month asking folks to participate in sit-down chats about pocketbook issues affecting middle class Floridians.

“We have expenses going up in various areas and we live in a community with maintenance costs ... and it’s getting harder to keep up,” J.M. Gibbons told Crist before asking about rising utility and insurance rates.

“I don’t think it’s right to build something, or not build something, and then ask people to pay for it,” Gibbons said in reference to Duke Energy’s two canceled nuclear power plant projects.

Throughout the meeting, Crist, who was dressed casually in khakis and loafers, took notes on a yellow legal pad and sipped iced tea, occasionally interjecting with questions and comments. He said the solution rests in appointing regulators to look out for average folks instead of special interests, a swipe at Scott who he said is aligned with the wealthy and business interests.

“It’s increasingly difficult. I hear about it all the time,” Crist told them. “And then it gets compounded with what you were talking about, J.M. You have utility companies like Duke Energy who say they’re going to build a plant and charge us for it and then they don’t even build it.”

Crist spent about 45 minutes chatting with the two before taking questions from the handful of reporters assembled in the couple’s dining room.

Scott’s campaign issued a statement attacking the tour soon after it launched.

“Almost a million Florida families lost their kitchen tables when they lost their jobs under Charlie Crist, so it will be interesting to hear him explain how he failed them as governor and then quit to run for another office before his first term even ended,” Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair said.

The couple said they were honored to meet Crist. Gibbons, 74, is a retired computer network engineer, having worked in suburban Philadelphia and the Tampa Bay area before retiring in 2004.

Marge Gibbons, 68, said she was a speech pathologist and worked for three years as an assistant principal at Bay Point Middle School in St. Petersburg, which Crist attended.

“Your pension is not unlike the one for police officers and firefighters, too,” Crist told her, seizing on another campaign theme. “They now have to contribute to it and a lot of them are supporting our campaign. They may not yet be on a fixed income, but will be soon, and so if the bills keep going up and the pension keeps going down they’ll get squeezed. That’s the problem that (Scott) doesn’t seem to comprehend.”

Crist was expected to head to Tampa for a Facebook chat at noon before traveling to Sarasota to meet with another family as part of the 10-day tour.

The goal, he said, is to connect with average folks, though the broader aim might be to reach retirees and middle class voters, including those who, according to polls, have grown increasingly disaffected with both candidates. Crist blamed negative campaign ads.

A statewide survey by Quinnipiac University out last week showed Scott and Crist in a statistical dead heat: Scott with 44 percent support, Crist with 42 percent and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie at 8 percent. Six percent were undecided and 17 percent said they still might change their minds.

The survey of 991 likely voters also pointed to a decline in favorability. It showed Crist’s favorability rating had plummeted deeper than in 2010 when he was governor during a deep recession and lost an independent U.S. Senate bid.

Scott’s favorability rating, meanwhile, has fallen by 6 percentage points since June 2013. But because his ratings were so low for so long, both candidates are now viewed similarly by voters.

Scott was viewed unfavorably by 48 percent of likely voters and favorably by 42 percent. Crist was viewed unfavorably by 49 percent while 41 percent viewed him favorably.