JACKSONVILLE — Rick Scott brought his campaign for governor to a North Florida stronghold Friday accompanied by a folk hero to many conservative Republicans: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
The fiery, fast-talking Jindal, an emerging national Republican figure and possible candidate for president in 2012, eagerly picked up on the Scott campaign's themes of creating jobs and linking Democratic opponent Alex Sink to President Barack Obama and his policies.
"You've got an important choice this election," Jindal told the crowd. "On the other side you've got a candidate who believes President Obama's stimulus policies are good for this economy." As the crowd booed its disapproval, Jindal thundered: "They believe we need to raise your taxes."
Sink, the state's chief financial officer, has not advocated raising taxes, but Jindal said, "Rick Scott doesn't believe in any of that."
Scott and Jindal also held events in Pensacola and Orlando, but the Jacksonville rally was by far the biggest of the day, the campaign said. Some people wore "Let's get to work" T-shirts, and others held hand-lettered "Scott-Carroll" signs.
"Bob-BY! Bob-BY!" an enthusiastic crowd of more than 300 people chanted as Jindal charged a small stage inside an airplane hangar decorated with a huge American flag. Jindal got a slightly stronger response than Scott, but the candidate was swarmed by people seeking his autograph or a picture.
"This is our time. This is our time to turn around this state and make it a model for turning around this country," Scott told the crowd. "If we don't take advantage of it, it's our fault."
On stage with Scott were his wife and mother, running mate Jennifer Carroll and her husband and son. Jacksonville's Duval County was pivotal to Scott's primary victory over Attorney General Bill McCollum. Scott got 54 percent here, 8 percentage points higher than his state total, compared to McCollum's 37 percent.
And as the home of his running mate, 20-year Navy veteran and former state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, Jacksonville looms even larger in Scott's plans for a November victory.
Democrats ridiculed the Scott-Jindal fly-around, calling them the "twins of stimulus hypocrisy" because Scott has a financial stake in XFONE, a company that has benefited from stimulus funds, while Jindal accepted stimulus money and celebrated it with large-sized checks distributed to Louisiana local officials.
At the Jacksonville rally, several warmup speakers repeatedly lashed Sink to Obama's policies while urging Republicans to round up friends and neighbors to make sure they vote on Nov. 2. "The key to winning is turnout," said Jacksonville businessman John Falconetti, one of a half dozen local Republicans who spoke before Scott and Jindal.
Some who came to hear Scott were curious and wanted to know more about him. Ned James, a transportation executive who voted for McCollum in the primary, speculated that Scott could have trouble winning because "he's not from Florida" (Scott moved to Naples from Connecticut seven years ago).
"I need to raise my comfort level with him," said James, who moved to Jacksonville in 2002 and, like Scott, used to work in the health care field.
Scott Junkins, 47, an Iraq war veteran, said he likes Scott's emphasis on creating jobs, and he dismissed the Medicare fraud that took place at Columbia/HCA Corp. when Scott was the hospital conglomerate's top executive in the 1990s. The company paid $1.7 billion in fines to the U.S. government.
"There's always concerns, but I'm going to tell you the truth. If you never do anything, you never do anything wrong," Junkins said. "I've been a Republican since pre-Ronald Reagan, and I think it's time to get to work."
On Saturday, Scott will be a featured speaker at what is expected to be a large gathering of tea party activists in St. Augustine.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] of (850) 224-7263.