TALLAHASSEE — The Florida governor's race became a battleground over health care reform Thursday as Democrat Charlie Crist aggressively responded to a heavily financed attack ad from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, while the governor released a Web ad with a 20-year-old cancer patient endorsing him.
Crist launched a digital ad that will run exclusively online and in social media attacking the governor for his "misleading" television ad that goes after Crist for his support of President Barack Obama's health care law. The ads are airing in the state's 10 media markets and the Florida Democratic Party has asked stations to remove Scott's ad because of its inaccurate content.
"Rick Scott wants to take us back to the days of insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, where women are charged more than men, and lifetime caps limit care even for kids with cancer,'' says the narrator in Crist's 30-second ad that ends with a shot of Scott in 1995 taken during a two-hour deposition when he was head of the hospital chain Columbia/HCA.
Scott's ad features Crist, the former Florida governor, being asked by CNN if he thought Obamacare has harmed Floridians. He replied: "I don't think so at all. I think it's been great."
The $2 million ad campaign, which debuted last week by Scott's "Let's Get to Work" political committee, also repeats statements about the impact of Obamacare that the Associated Press and PolitiFact Florida have demonstrated are inaccurate.
Florida Democratic Party lawyer Mark Herron asked 67 television stations across the state to refrain from running it because it contains "patently false information."
But in a sign of how delicately the Crist campaign is handling the issue, the response ad quotes the news articles and highlights the features of the Affordable Care Act, yet does not mention the name of the law or its unofficial label, Obamacare.
The Obama administration's troubled rollout of the health care plan, especially with its website healthcare.gov, has given Republicans plenty of political ammunition against Democrats. This week, the administration announced its March 31 deadline to enroll would be extended indefinitely.
In a conference call with reporters, Crist supporter Dan Gelber, a former state senator from Miami, called Scott's latest ad "shameful — not just because it's mostly false and misleading, but it also confirms Rick Scott has no vision."
He said he didn't know why Crist's ad didn't refer to Obamacare but said Crist will not shy away from defending the program's benefits.
"We will respond forcefully to these false ads,'' Gelber said. "On health care, for instance, we believe we should be making the law work."
Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Susan Hepworth challenged the wisdom of the strategy.
"They are desperately trying to change the subject away from the fact that they, and their darling candidate Charlie Crist, support a devastating, disastrous, and wildly unpopular law that harms Floridians. It didn't work before, and it won't work this time," she said.
On the same day Crist released his digital ad buy, the Scott campaign released a Web ad featuring an unidentified 20-year-old University of Florida student who has cancer. "I stand with Gov. Rick Scott because he supports people like me,'' the student says.
The ad was shot to highlight Scott's recent proposal to give more money to expand cancer research in Florida.
Scott has called for the repeal of Obamacare but has not offered what he would like to see replace the portion of the act that protects young people with cancer from being denied insurance coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Recent Florida polls have shown that support for the health care law breaks along party lines and that a narrow majority of independent voters oppose it.
The reforms, however, have the support of blacks and Hispanics. Support for the expansion of Medicaid, which disproportionately enrolls minorities, is also widely popular, but the Republican-dominated Legislature has refused to approve it.
Polls also show Scott trailing Crist in a head-to-head matchup, even though Crist is just one of a number of Democrats seeking the nomination.
The Crist campaign will spend "thousands of dollars" posting the ad on various online platforms and will adjust that daily, said Kevin Cate, Crist's spokesman. He declined to disclose specific numbers