On HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher Friday night, Charlie Crist suggested something that it's hard to imagine any leading Florida Republican candidate saying: It's time to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
"The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba," Crist said in a formal statement following the TV appearance. "If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there, not block ourselves out and cede influence to China. It will take time, and we must do it in a way where American investment helps people, not the dictatorship. But the reality is that no state's economy is hurt more by America's Cuba policies than Florida. Changing these policies to allow Florida's farmers, manufacturers, and construction industry to sell goods and services in Cuba would boost Florida's economy and help businesses create more jobs in our state."
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, also recently came out in favor of ending the 52-year-old embargo, while Palm Beach sugar baron Alfy Fanjul, whose family fled Cuba a generation ago, made national news last week when he announced that he also believes the time has come to ease relations with his former country.
On Saturday, Gov. Rick Scott responded to Crist's comments with a statement: "The suggestion that Cuban Americans need to be 'stood up to' is insulting. Our Cuban community needs to be stood up FOR. Our nation is great because we were built on a foundation of freedom and democracy. That is not true in Cuba and we should not pretend it is. The importance of maintaining the embargo is that it stands for the Cuban people's right to be free."
Lucas Overby, the Libertarian candidate to succeed the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 that he blew his response to a question about abortion in last week's debate. No, he now says, he would not like to see Roe vs. Wade overturned. He called his affirmative answer "absolutely a complete and utter misspeak." Check out the full interview at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. And watch a replay of the debate at 11:30 a.m.
Biden in South Florida
Coral Gables is a long way from Pinellas County, but Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to campaign there for Democratic congressional candidate Alex Sink. Biden will appear at a Wednesday fundraiser at the home of Michael and Judy Adler, with tickets between $1,000 and $5,000.
Rich's big backer
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich has yet to receive much support from party leaders in her long-shot primary campaign against Crist, but last week she received a big-name endorsement: former Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, the 1998 Democratic nominee for governor against Jeb Bush.
"For the past 16 years, under three Republican governors, our state has been led down a right-wing, ideological path that has worked against teachers and public education, dismantled growth management and put our environmental resources in jeopardy, ignored the needs of our elderly and at-risk children, and abandoned the middle class in favor of tax breaks for the rich and major corporations," MacKay said in a statement. "We need a strong Democrat to lead Florida again, and Nan Rich is the one true Democrat in the race for governor."
Rich is scheduled to address the Greater Pinellas Democratic Club on Thursday evening at Banquet Masters in Pinellas Park. Call (727) 360-3971 for reservations.
Poll: Who's ahead?
A Jan. 27-Feb. 1 poll of registered voters in Florida by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at the University of Florida in collaboration with UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research found that 47 percent of likely voters would vote for Democratic candidate Crist if the election were held today, while 40 percent would vote for Republican incumbent Scott. In a matchup with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, 46 percent would vote for Nelson, a Democrat, and 42 percent would vote for Scott. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Also from the poll:
• 55 percent believe Crist is honest and ethical; 51 percent believe the same for Scott.
• 53 percent believe Crist understands the problems of people like them; 39 percent believe that Scott does.
• 53 percent believe Crist knows how to improve Florida's economy; 52 percent believe Scott does.
• Ninety-five percent of likely voters said they have either "a great deal of interest" (66 percent) or "a fair amount of interest" (29 percent) in the race.