ST. PETERSBURG — A group of Florida sheriffs gathered Monday to endorse Gov. Rick Scott in the race for U.S. Senate, praising his strong partnership with law enforcement and touting a 47-year crime low.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri kicked off the endorsement at Federal Eastern International, a law enforcement supply store. Gualtieri pointed to what he said was a swift and effective response to the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as an example of Scott's leadership.
"He leads from the front … and that's what we need in our next United States senator," said Gualtieri, whom Scott appointed to lead a public safety commission tasked with reviewing all aspects of the shooting. "(We need) somebody that's going to go to Washington, that's going to break the mold, that's not going to maintain the status quo."
About a half dozen other sheriffs joined the event, including Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis. Scott put the total endorsement at 55 sheriffs across the state. Both Gualtieri and Chronister are Scott appointees, Gualtieri in 2011 and Chronister in August after their predecessors retired.
"He's always given law enforcement the tools, the resources and the legislation we need to keep our community safe," said Chronister, who will face voters for the first time in November.
Scott addressed his supporters with a sobering reminder to pray for the recovery of an Orlando police officer who was shot overnight during a standoff at an apartment complex. He went on to praise law enforcement for keeping crime rates low and responding to tragedies all over the state, including the shootings at Pulse nightclub, Stoneman Douglas and Fort Lauderdale airport.
"Thank God there are individuals willing to do this," he said. "It's a real honor that I've got these 55 sheriffs that are endorsing me."
The sitting senator, Bill Nelson, did not come up during the public announcement. But speaking to reporters afterward, Gualtieri came out strong against Nelson's approach.
"I've never met the man. I've never received a phone call from the man. I don't know him," the sheriff said. "People need to remember where their bread is buttered. It's buttered at home, not Washington, D.C."
Staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.