JACKSONVILLE — Rick Scott and Jennifer Carroll made their debut as the Republican gubernatorial ticket Thursday and met small but enthusiastic crowds on a three-city flyaround.
In Brandon, Orlando and Jacksonville, Scott and Carroll talked up the importance of creating jobs in a struggling Sunshine State and Scott criticized Democratic rival Alex Sink for supporting "the Socialist policies of President Obama."
Carroll — an African-American state representative, Navy veteran, small business owner and immigrant from Trinidad — brings gender balance as Scott's running mate and offers a sharp visual contrast to the lanky Midwesterner who presided over the expansion of the Columbia/HCA hospital network.
"Working together, we will broaden the base of our party, reaching out to every Floridian who wants a better future for their families," Scott said as he introduced Carroll to TV cameras for the first time near her Fleming Island home. The site was the entrance of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, with a sleek-looking Blue Angel jet in the background. In attendance was U.S. Navy Adm. Kevin Delaney, Carroll's former boss.
In Carroll, Scott gets an experienced legislator who can help guide him through Tallahassee, still a strange world to him. And already she's creating enthusiasm among Republican activists eager for something positive after the bitter primary between Scott and Bill McCollum.
"It's awesome. It's nice to have new blood," said Michelle Beaudoin of Brandon at the day's last stop at a party headquarters in Hillsborough. "It will be two people who haven't been career politicians."
Mary Ellen Ludeking, who owns a Jacksonville small business, called Carroll an asset to the GOP ticket. "Jennifer is a very good person with high morals and a high work ethic who served our country," Ludeking said.
At a storefront GOP office in Jacksonville, Scott was flanked by Carroll on his left and his wife, Ann, on his right. Most of the senior advisers on Scott's campaign are women as well.
Sink, the Democratic nominee, said Carroll's race and gender will not matter to Florida voters.
"We're going to be focused over the next weeks on the vision for Florida,'' Sink said. "And I think people when they go to vote, they're past all these gender and racial issues. They're really looking at the candidates and the messages and the commitments that the candidates have to changing the future of Florida."
As for Scott's reference to Socialism, Sink said: "He obviously doesn't know a thing about me, does he?"
Carroll said she supports Scott's hard-line views on illegal immigration and in support of a state law similar to one adopted earlier this year in Arizona.
"The bottom line is legal immigration. We cannot reward people for their illegal acts in coming to this country," Carroll said. Even for legal immigrants like herself, she said, the process is "cumbersome, tedious and not friendly," adding: "One thing we have to get away from is the race factor, because immigrants come from different backgrounds, like myself, from Trinidad. Not always Mexican."
In the Republican primary, Carroll supported McCollum and chaired a statewide African-Americans for McCollum group. Explaining that decision, she said: "Bill McCollum came into the race early ... I was loyal to my word. At the end of the day, a man's word and a woman's word have to be their bond."
Carroll said she was approached months ago about her possible interest in being Scott's running mate. She was considered for a similar post by Charlie Crist four years ago and twice ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
Scott, who has campaigned against "career politicians," portrayed Carroll as an outsider, even though she has been a member of the Legislature for seven years and is part of the leadership team as a majority whip.
"She's an outsider. She clearly says what she thinks," Scott said. "She was absolutely the best choice. ... We talked to a lot of people."
Carroll, 51, was born in Trinidad, came to the United States at age 8 and enlisted in the Navy in 1979, serving 20 years and retiring as a lieutenant commander, aviation service officer. The self-employed owner of a public relations consulting firm, she was the first black Republican woman elected to the state Legislature and previously ran the state Department of Veterans Affairs under former Gov. Jeb Bush. She is married with three children, including Nolan, a rookie with the Miami Dolphins.
Scott joked that with his four years of naval service as a radarman, coupled with Carroll's two decades of service, "We can probably make sure all the helicopter pilots never get lost."
Carroll joined Scott in hitting the Republicans' core message of linking Sink to President Barack Obama and his policies.
"This is a critical election for Florida," Carroll said in Jacksonville. "Our opponents embrace the failed policies of Washington, D.C. They believe in growing government instead of growing jobs."
Asked how Carroll would create jobs, Scott said: "She knows, just like I know, that the way you get an economy going is, you get government out of the way. You've got to reduce regulation, and you've got to downsize the size of state government."
Carroll's debut on the statewide stage wasn't gaffe-free. Citing Scott's "7-7-7" plan to take seven steps to create 700,000 new jobs over seven years, she turned to her running mate and said: "Seven years, 7,000 jobs, right Rick? Seven hundred jobs in seven years."
Times political editor Adam C. Smith and Times/Herald staff writer Lee Logan contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.