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Governor, Senate rivals rally the faithful in a sprint for votes

A boisterous crowd of 700 Republicans with "Fire Pelosi" stickers on their shirts packed a Sarasota jet hangar Sunday, hoping to launch their statewide ticket to a sweep of Florida's top political offices.

They welcomed U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio with the kind of thunderous applause more often associated with presidential candidates, while Rick Scott earned cheers for portraying his race for governor as a referendum on Washington.

Meanwhile, Democrats Alex Sink and Kendrick Meek, running for governor and U.S. Senator respectively, spent Sunday morning at predominantly black churches, where they hoped to push "souls to the polls."

"It's a neck-and-neck race," Sink said of her showdown with Scott. "Right now, for the next 48 hours, it's going to be all about getting our voters and supporters out to the polls."

While the major party candidates mostly campaigned on opposite sides of the state encouraging their base of voters to show up to the polls — Democrats on Florida's east coast, Republicans along the Gulf Coast — Gov. Charlie Crist spent a harried day pushing his independent campaign for the U.S. Senate along both shorelines.

The doughnut shops and barbecue joints where Crist campaigned one handshake at a time offered a stark contrast to the heavily attended Republican rally.

But while polls have consistently showed him trailing Rubio, Crist maintained his trademark optimism, jumping the counter at a Hollywood Dunkin' Donuts to serve coffee, and jogging into a laundromat to shake hands with people washing clothes. "I don't think the people who are doing the polling are calling the people we're meeting," he said.

In West Palm Beach, Crist made a direct appeal to Democratic voters at two black churches, where he painted Rubio as an "extremist" and repeated President Barack Obama's "Yes we can" slogan.

"I'm going to stand up to him when I think he's wrong," Crist said at Redemption Life Fellowship, referring to Obama. "But I'm going to stand with him when I think he's right."

Meek, trailing Rubio and Crist in the polls, received a final blessing from his home congregation, Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist, the Liberty City church where he was baptized. "I just want to tell you how much I appreciate all the prayers and the support my church family has given me,'' said Meek, who has continually fended off rumors that he's quitting.

Sink, shoring up her Democratic base after running a mostly nonpartisan race for governor, made a whirlwind tour of four black churches in Jacksonville.

"My faith tells me not to pray for victory, because God will decide that, but to pray for strength,'' Sink said at Greater Macedonia Baptist Church.

The tight race for governor between Sink and Scott was confirmed again on Sunday in a new poll conducted by the New York Times-owned Florida newspapers. It showed Scott up by 5 percentage points, but within the margin of error. Despite the statistical dead heat, Scott insists he will be the third consecutive Republican elected governor.

On Sunday, his confidence turned casual. "Oh yeah, we're going to win," he told a supporter at Dolphin Aviation in Sarasota.

In Port Charlotte, Scott said Republicans led in early voting, and, "If we continue this for the next three days, we will have big wins all across the state.''

Sink, however, also claimed big momentum. In Delray Beach, 300 backers greeted her at an evening rally. She also pointed to long lines at early voting sites over the weekend as an signs she will be the state's first female governor and first Democrat elected to the office since 1994.

"The kind of enthusiasm you're seeing right here today I'm seeing it all over the state right now,'' Sink said in Jacksonville.

When the doors opened Sunday at the early voting site in Jacksonville's Elections Center at the Gateway Shopping Mall, the line was 40 deep. An hour later, 80 people were waiting, many of them still in their church clothes, now sweaty from the heat.

It was part of the Democratic Party's coordinated campaign to bring out black voters on the final day of early voting. In Duval, the effort included phone calls and pulpit prayers.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, joined Sink, enticing voters with a chicken dinner at her campaign headquarters across the street from an early voting site in the heart of Jacksonville's North Side. "You've got to vote first,'' Brown said.

Inside, state Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, dished up platters of barbecue chicken, baked beans, cole slaw and biscuits. "We're going to exceed expectations,'' he predicted.

Scott spent an hour working the Sunday brunch crowd at the outdoor cafes on St. Petersburg's sun-dappled Beach Drive, accompanied by Mayor Bill Foster.

Scott tasted sorbet from Cassis Bakery and posed for pictures with a lot of people, some dressed in colorful Halloween get-ups. He flashed a thumbs-up sign to a gaggle of supporters.

In Sarasota, Scott took the stage to cheers, painting himself as part of a GOP wave that would sweep out U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and keep Obama from winning re-election in two years.

Rubio's four children joined him on stage in their Halloween costumes. He predicted a Republican win because Democrats had lost the "battle of ideas."

"When was the last time you saw a commercial where one of our opponents came on TV and said, 'I proudly support Obamacare?' " he asked.

"Never!" the crowd shouted.

Jeff Atwater, the outgoing state Senate president who is running for state CFO, did not bother to address that job, saying he did not want to "bore" the crowd. Instead, he, too, offered up a blistering attack on Washington.

Lisa Gavilanes, a 52-year-old Republican, said Scott was unfit to serve as governor, citing the massive Medicare fraud case against his former hospital.

"It appears he robbed the people," she said. But Gavilanes said she fears something worse: a Democrat. "I'd rather vote for Scott than Sink any day."

Miami Herald staff writers Mary Ellen Klas and Beth Reinhard contributed to this report.

Catch the candidates today:

Marco Rubio rally, SheltAir Air Services, 15875 Fairchild Drive, Clearwater, 10:30 a.m.

Charlie Crist rally, The Hangar Restaurant, Albert Whitted Airport, 107 8th Avenue SE, St. Petersburg 5:45 p.m.

Alex Sink, running mate Rod Smith, Sen. Bill Nelson and live band, rally, concert, The Ritz, 1503 E 7th Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, 6:00 p.m.

Rick Scott is in South Florida, with a rally in Davie, the Old Davie School, 6650 Griffin Road, 7 p.m.

Kendrick Meek, Alex Sink and President Bill Clinton, Lake Eola Park, 600 E Robinson St., Orlando, 9:15 p.m.

.if you go

Catch the candidates today

Marco Rubio rally, SheltAir Air Services, 15875 Fairchild Drive, Clearwater, 10:30 a.m.

Charlie Crist rally, the Hangar Restaurant, Albert Whitted Airport, 107 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg, 5:45 p.m.

Alex Sink, running mate Rod Smith, Sen. Bill Nelson and live band, rally, concert, the Ritz, 1503 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, 6 p.m.

Rick Scott is in South Florida, with a rally in Davie, the Old Davie School, 6650 Griffin Road, 7 p.m.

Kendrick Meek, Alex Sink and President Bill Clinton, Lake Eola Park, 600 E Robinson St., Orlando, 9:15 p.m.

Governor, Senate rivals rally the faithful in a sprint for votes 10/31/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 1, 2010 1:34am]

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