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Gov. Rick Scott to Charlie Crist: Win your primary and then maybe we'll debate

"Give me Scott."

Democrat Charlie Crist issued that implicit debate challenge to Gov. Rick Scott during an impromptu caught-on-video meeting Monday with Lt. Gov. Carlos-Lopez Cantera.

But Scott said Tuesday that he's not ready to take up the challenge, noting that Crist has refused to debate his fellow Democrat, former Sen. Nan Rich.

"That's laughable. Think about it. He has a primary," Scott said.

"I'm sure it's going to be enjoyable watching his debates with Nan Rich," he said.

Rich appreciated Scott's comments.

"It's the first thing Scott has said in almost four years that I agree with," she joked, before referencing how Crist used to be a Republican when he was governor.

"Since Charlie is new to the Democratic Party — especially because Charlie is new to the Democratic Party — he owes it to the voters to debate and talk about the issues to show where he stands," she said.

Crist, however, has said that voters from all parties know his record. And, previously, he said he "wasn't even thinking about" debating Rich.

Crist's spokesman, Kevin Cate, amplified on those comments Tuesday in a statement that all but closed the door on a debate before the Aug. 23 Democratic primary.

"Charlie Crist and the people of Florida are facing $100 million in negative advertising from Rick Scott. We don't expect that to change," Cate said.

"The middle class has too much at stake for our campaign to not focus entirely on defeating Rick Scott and his corporate beneficiaries in November."

According to a media buying sheet obtained by the Miami Herald, Scott has spent about $5.2 million on TV ads since mid March. Many of the spots are negative and attack Crist over his support for Obamacare.

Aside from this "air war" aspect of the campaign, Scott is heavily investing in what's known as the "ground game" to garner grass-roots support.

"This past week, a young volunteer named Merlyn Asencio from Hialeah knocked the 120,000th targeted door for Governor Rick Scott in the 2014 cycle," Scott's deputy campaign manager, Tim Saler, said in an internal memo obtained by the Herald.

Just by measuring door-knocks, Saler said, Scott's campaign was about four months ahead of where former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign was at this point in 2012. Romney barely lost Florida.

And, Saler said, compared to President Barack Obama's 2012 ground game, Crist had nowhere near the organization or number of field offices, though the Democrat intends to open one in Broward County on Saturday.

"Field infrastructure needs to be deployed early in the campaign in order to maximize effectiveness, and the Crist campaign is already behind the eight ball compared to the Obama strategy," Saler wrote.

But Crist leads in most polls, a residual effect of Scott's tough 2010 election, some unpopular moves as governor and Crist's high name ID.

Crist is countering Scott's financial advantage by barnstorming the state and making himself much more available to reporters than Scott to earn what's known as "free media."

Crist's encounter with the lieutenant governor in Palm Beach County on Monday was a case in point. Lopez-Cantera was there to rebut Crist's attacks on Scott, but the Democrat decided to disrupt the Republican's gaggle with reporters by surprising him.

"Charlie's willing to say whatever you want to hear to get elected," Lopez Cantera said to reporters as a Palm Beach Post videographer shot the scene. "But when it comes down to the facts, to the record, when it was time to stand up and make a difference, he left ..."

At that point, Crist appeared in the background, and offered a handshake to Lopez-Cantera, who supported Crist when he successfully ran for governor in 2006 as a Republican.

Crist: "Good to see you."

Lopez-Cantera: "Hey. How are you?"

Crist: "Doing well. Say hi to your family for me."

A reporter then asked Crist about Lopez-Cantera's claims that the Democrat has "told lies about Gov. Scott …"

"He's got to debate the lieutenant governor candidate," Crist responded. "Give me Scott."

Democrats and liberal blogs celebrated Crist's encounter, leading the candidate to email out a fundraising pitch with a two-word subject line: "Boom. Roasted."

Gov. Rick Scott to Charlie Crist: Win your primary and then maybe we'll debate 04/15/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 6:16pm]
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