SARASOTA — Rick Scott, in some respects, makes it easy on journalists. If a reporter misses something he says in an interview, maybe even spaces out for a moment, it doesn't really matter, because Scott is certain to say the same thing again. And again. And again.
So it was Labor Day in Sarasota, as the Florida governor invited a few reporters to join him on a campaign "bus tour," which in fact was an opportunity to chat with Scott aboard his "Let's Keep Working" bus as it traveled about four blocks to a boisterous rally at Walt's Fish Market. The trip somehow lasted nearly 30 minutes, which was more than enough time to get a clear sense of Scott's campaign message for the next two months: Charlie Crist is a slick talker but a lousy chief executive. And he's pals with President Barack Obama.
"Charlie ran the state into the ground. It's Barack Obama in Florida. Barack Obama thinks money grows on trees. Charlie Crist thinks the same way. He would spend money on anything and everything if he could," Scott said, suggesting that cuts in education and environmental protection early in his term were due to federal stimulus money running out and Scott having to clean up the budgetary "mess" Crist left him.
Labor Day marks the traditional kickoff to the general election, and as Scott campaigned alongside Attorney General Pam Bondi in Plant City, Bradenton and Sarasota on Monday, Crist attended Labor Day picnics in the Tampa Bay area, as well.
What's clear with nine weeks to go is that both candidates are truly contemptuous of each other. Crist depicts Scott as a heartless corporate sleaze, while Scott talks about "Charlie" as if he's a phony lightweight.
The former governor blasted the current governor as a "corporate governor" who is "crushing the middle class" because he's allowing utility companies and property insurance companies to raise their rates.
Crist scoffed at Scott's pledges to increase spending on the environment and education, and said they were an election-year conversion intended to get people to forget Scott's record.
"He's trying to be more like me, and I understand it because we do what's right for people and he does what's right for corporations," Crist said.
Scott, a multimillionaire former hospital chain executive, repeatedly spoke in a 25-minute interview about his family growing up in poverty and repeatedly described Crist as a failure for average Floridians.
He spoke of "Charlie's tuition increases" and "Charlie's tax increases" and said Crist "made Florida a worse place to live" when he was governor.
Asked about the prospect of expanding Medicaid coverage to provide insurance to nearly 1 million Floridians, as Scott once supported, the governor made clear that's no longer part of his agenda.
"Go talk to the Legislature," he said, suggesting he would only advocate for it if the federal government paid 100 percent of the cost.
He took no position on a controversial decision last week by Lee County School Board members to opt out of all standardized testing. "I think what they're going to focus on are, what are the unintended consequences."
Scott's "Let's Keep Working" campaign tour is scheduled to hit 28 cities over the next two weeks, as he seeks to convince voters in every corner of the state that they are far better off with Crist out of office. He'll promote recent campaign proposals, including $1 billion in tax and fee cuts.
"He's a slick politician, he's a smooth talker. That's not me. I'm not a smooth talker. What I'm focused on is how do you get things done," Scott said, scoffing that the Crist campaign has released few policy papers because Crist "doesn't do policy."
In person, the animosity Crist and Scott display for each other looks entirely heartfelt. Given the deluge of negative TV ads, it may be only a matter of time before most voters agree with both of them.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.