Monday, December 18, 2017
Politics

Optimist, road warrior and Charlie Crist foe Nan Rich does it her way

PENSACOLA — Nan Rich is a long way from home.

In this ultraconservative city on the western edge of the Florida Panhandle, the Democratic candidate for governor is more than 650 miles from her base of support in left-leaning Broward County.

Any farther and she would be in Alabama.

Rich is keenly aware of the distance as she settles in for a meet and greet at a trendy restaurant that serves both sushi and Southern comfort food. Winning votes here is a long shot. But so is winning the Governor's Mansion.

Rich, a former state senator from Weston, is the decided underdog in the Aug. 26 Democratic primary. Her opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist, is better known and better financed, and widely expected to face sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the general election.

Still, Rich has spent more than two years crisscrossing the state, hammering on her talking points: More money for public schools. An increase in the minimum wage. Health care for all.

Her campaign workers say she has traveled more than 160,000 miles and attended more than 325 campaign events.

"Look at what happened with Eric Cantor," Rich said last week, recalling the U.S. House majority leader from Virginia who shockingly lost this month's primary election to a little-known economics professor. "That's the power of grass roots organizing."

Despite her best efforts, the spotlight has remained on Crist, a one-term Republican governor who ran a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and became a Democrat in 2012.

That's partly because of name recognition. Rich is well known in South Florida, where she was a longtime community activist and held elected office. But elsewhere in the state, her name doesn't ring a bell in most voters' minds. A Quinnipiac poll in April found that 85 percent of voters hadn't heard enough about Rich to have an opinion of her. Her Twitter account has just 2,379 followers and Facebook account has 20,000 likes.

Rich has also struggled to raise money. Her campaign has thus far collected $379,000 in contributions — a fraction of the nearly $12 million Crist has between his campaign and the political committee Charlie Crist for Florida.

Rich's biggest challenge, according to Florida Atlantic University political science professor Kevin Wagner: convincing her own party that she's a viable candidate statewide.

"Democrats are at a point where winning is what matters," he said. "They see Charlie Crist as the candidate who can beat Rick Scott."

Rich's campaign has caused some friction in the party. Some Democrats say she is detracting from the front-runner and calling attention to his political liabilities.

Rich has said she is the only "true Democrat" in the race. Crist has repeatedly rebuffed her calls for a primary debate — a fact the Republican Party of Florida has used to attack Crist.

The Florida Democratic Party says it is neutral in the primary.

"We have a great deal of respect for Sen. Rich and her service to Florida," spokesman Max Steele said in a statement. "As the primary unfolds, we are looking toward the November election and are building the grass roots movement to defeat Rick Scott."

But Rich says there is evidence that the party is already supporting her opponent. She hasn't been invited to as many party-sanctioned speaking engagements, she said.

Without the Democratic machinery to help her, Rich has adopted her own strategy. That means time on the road discussing her record of supporting gay rights, reproductive rights, public schools and the environment.

Traveling the state is not glamorous. There is no private jet or red, white and blue campaign bus. Rich flies commercial. When she needs to connect between cities, she drives with a friend or campaign worker.

The septuagenarian (she's 72) says her supporters keep her energized. She is often surrounded by enthusiastic activists who call themselves Nan Fans.

There's Joe Snodgrass, the retired electrician from Crescent City who turned his 32-foot camper into a moving billboard for Rich's campaign. He drives the "Nan Van" to campaign events around the state.

Judy Byrne Riley, a retired commercial Realtor from Niceville, is one of Rich's top organizers in northwest Florida. She became a Nan Fan after winning a dinner with Rich in a raffle.

"When people meet Nan, they realize her sincerity, her experience, her qualifications, her values," Byrne Riley said.

Rich's recent swing through the Panhandle began Tuesday, when she dropped off her qualifying documents in Tallahassee. She was joined by a dozen fans, who clapped and cheered once the paperwork was in.

The Nan Van was parked outside.

That afternoon, Rich drove with a friend to Okaloosa County. The next 24 hours included interviews with local reporters, a private reception in Shalimar, and the meet and greet in downtown Pensacola.

The Pensacola event was a friendly, intimate affair. Most of the 30 attendees were Democratic women intent on seeing a female governor. Rich introduced herself to almost everyone who came.

Halfway through the event, retired nurse Evalyn Narramore urged the group to build Rich's name recognition by donating to her campaign.

"It's an uphill battle for any Democrat in Escambia County, Okaloosa County and Santa Rosa Country," Narramore said. "There's no way a Democrat can win more than 50 percent of the votes here."

Scott won all three counties by wide margins in 2010. He took more than two-thirds of the vote in both Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties.

Still, Narramore was confident that Nan Fans could play a role in the election.

"We helped tipped the balance for Barack Obama, and we hope to do it for Nan," she said.

The following morning, Rich drove to Panama City to address the Democratic Women's Club of Bay County. She delivered her stump speech, fielded questions from the audience and hit the road again.

The trip concluded that night at a meeting of the Capital City GLBTA Democratic Caucus. About 20 people came to see her speak in an otherwise quiet Tallahassee watering hole.

Before the evening came to a close, Rich said some of her supporters had questioned her visit to the Panhandle. Why waste her time?

"My answer is that the vote is cumulative," she said. "I plan on doing very well in Broward, my home county. But you never know which county is going to make the difference in the end and push you over the top."

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at [email protected]

   
Comments
National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

National security strategy plan paints China, Russia as U.S. competitors

WASHINGTON — A new U.S. national security strategy plan presents China and Russia as competitors that want to realign global power in their interests, potentially threatening the United States, Trump administration officials said Sunday.President Don...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

Trump says he isn’t considering firing Mueller

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Sunday that he is not considering firing special counsel Robert Mueller even as his administration was again forced to grapple with the growing Russia inquiry that has shadowed the White House for much of his ...
Published: 12/17/17
Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

Trump defends tax plan, proclaims economy set ‘to rock’

WASHINGTON — Closing in on the first major legislative achievement of his term, President Donald Trump on Saturday defended the Republican tax cut as a good deal for the middle class while boldly suggesting it could lead to explosive economic growth....
Published: 12/16/17
Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Romano: Some bullies survive beyond the schoolyard

Sometime soon, members of the Florida House will be asked to consider a solution for bullying in public schools. It’s a dubious idea based on the premise that students should flee their tormenters, and use voucher funds to attend a private school of ...
Published: 12/16/17
CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.Polic...
Published: 12/16/17
Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

A Democratic candidate hoping to flip a hotly contested congressional seat in Kansas has dropped out of the race after allegations that she sexually harassed a male subordinate resurfaced amid her campaign.Andrea Ramsey, 57, who was running to unseat...
Published: 12/16/17
Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Published: 12/15/17
Updated: 12/16/17
With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

With Rubio, Corker back on board, GOP speeds ahead with tax plan

WASHINGTON — Republican lawmakers on Friday secured enough votes to pass the most sweeping tax overhaul in decades, putting them on the cusp of their first significant legislative victory this year as party leaders geared up to pass a $1.5 trillion t...
Published: 12/15/17
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Published: 12/15/17
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Published: 12/15/17