SUN CITY CENTER
With TV ad spending topping $104 million in Florida's record-shattering, nail-biter of a governor's race — including the late addition of nearly $13 million directly from Gov. Rick Scott — the candidates spread out across Florida on Saturday trying to push every last supporter to the polls.
Crist mingled with students in Tallahassee, while his campaign aides fretted about the impact of an unprecedented number of ads launched by Scott and his allies. Republicans are spending more than $13 million on TV ads over the final eight days, twice what Democrats are spending and equivalent to about $1,200 every minute of every day for TV commercials.
"Just turn on the TV and watch," said a smiling Melissa Sellers, Scott's campaign manager, when asked about the spending while Scott was in Sun City Center with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.
Scott also looked upbeat as he kicked off Saturday's "Let's Keep Working" bus tour for a drive down I-75, where he later met up with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in Naples.
"Have you heard about the Republican, the Democrat, and the independent that walked into the bar?" he asked about 100 supporters. "He walks in, and everybody says, 'Hi Charlie!' "
Reports filed late Friday show Scott and his wife, Ann, tapped their personal wealth to help finance his campaign by writing a series of checks for $12.8 million in the last month, including checks from the governor's "blind trust," whose contents are shielded from him to avoid conflicts of interest.
Scott, who made most of his fortune running the Columbia/HCA hospital chain and spent more than $75 million of his own money to win in 2010, had said a year ago he would not fund his campaign this time around.
The governor's contributions came in two spurts: checks of $5 million each from Richard L. Scott's "qualified blind trust" and Frances A. Scott, his wife, on Oct. 6, and two more checks of $1.4 million each, from the same sources.
A spokesman for the governor, Greg Blair, said Scott did not instruct trustees which investments to liquidate, which would be improper under a blind trust. But "that doesn't mean the money doesn't belong to you and you can't withdraw from that account," Blair added.
Crist, the former Republican governor who ran for U.S. Senate unsuccessfully as an independent and now is the Democratic nominee for governor, spent Saturday in Tallahassee, where thousands of Florida A&M University alumni gathered for the homecoming game against Norfolk State.
His campaign is counting on strong African-American support, and attending the FAMU game enabled him to schmooze with black voters and leaders from every corner of Florida. Black voters made up about 11 percent of the electorate in 2010, and the Crist campaign says nearly twice as many black voters have cast ballots this year compared to four years ago.
"We cover the whole state by being here," Crist said as he worked the crowd at Bragg Memorial Stadium. "Rick Scott thinks he can buy this race. But he can't buy (votes) and he can't buy the governor's race."
Scott on Saturday noted that California billionaire, investor and environmental activist Tom Steyer has spent about $15 million to help defeat him, including a series of ads in the Tampa Bay area highlighting Scott's support for and from Duke Energy.
"We had to offset this left-wing billionaire," Scott said of Steyer before hopping on his bus and heading to Venice. "We put our money in, but it's nothing close to $15 million."
Since March, Scott and his allies have spent about $68 million on TV ads and Crist and his allies, including Steyer's NextGen Climate political action committee, have spent about $36 million since their TV campaign began in July. Most of the ads from both campaigns have been negative, and for the final two weeks, Scott is on pace to air as much as $19.5 million in ads to Crist's $7.8 million.
"Rick Scott is spending his ill-gotten campaign cash so fast, every 40 minutes he spends what a middle-class Florida family makes in a year," said Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux, referring to Medicare fraud that occurred at Columbia/HCA when Scott led the company.
Polls consistently show the race tied or virtually tied, which means it will likely be won by whichever side does a better job turning out voters. Gauging who has the stronger get-out-the-vote effort is complicated by the way early voting is redefining campaigns in Florida. More than 2.8 million Floridians already have voted by mail or at early voting locations, more than half the number of people who cast ballots in the last race for governor.
About 134,000 more Republicans than Democrats had cast votes by Saturday morning, an advantage of about 4.8 percentage points, which sounds like great news for Scott. But in 2010, About 271,000 more Republicans than Democrats had voted before Election Day, an advantage of nearly 12 percentage points. That was a Republican wave election and Scott wound up beating Democrat Alex Sink by 61,000 votes, just over 1 percentage point.
The political landscape is so uncertain neither side can feel comfortable as the hours tick down to Election Day.
How big an impact will unprecedented TV spending in the final days have on the race?
How many people who voted early were certain to vote anyway?
Will independents break toward Crist as polls suggest?
Both sides are bringing in big names for the final push. Vice President Joe Biden will campaign for Crist in Miami today, and Bill Clinton will campaign for him in Orlando on Monday.
Jeb Bush will be on the trail with Scott in Hialeah today, and on Election Day in West Tampa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry will campaign with Scott at the Arco Iris restaurant at 11:45 a.m. On Saturday, Rubio campaigned with Scott in Sun City Center, Venice and Fort Myers, while Christie joined him in Naples.
Rubio served as Florida House speaker for half of Crist's term as a Republican governor, and said Crist did little to entice or help grow businesses because he never showed leadership.
"He wasn't engaged, and quite frankly he wasn't capable of doing it. Beyond that, his policies scared people away. If you think Republican Charlie Crist was bad, imagine Democrat Charlie Crist," Rubio said.
"In Rick Scott, you have a real governor, someone who is managing the state on a day-to-day basis. He wakes up in the morning and the first thing he thinks about is, 'How can I make Florida the best place, not only in the country, but in the world for people to invest?' … When Charlie Crist was governor he woke up in the morning and said 'What can I do to become vice president? What other office can I run for?' "
In Tallahassee on Saturday, Crist donned an orange-and-green windbreaker to meet with FAMU fans who were tailgating before the game. His wife, Carole, wore a FAMU sweatshirt and an orange-and-green ski cap with a pom-pom on top for the occasion.
The two shook hands with voters from Jacksonville, Miami and Tampa. Crist urged each to vote on Tuesday.
Dwayne Pressley, an entrepreneur from Tallahassee, spotted Crist in the parking lot and rushed over for a photograph.
"I voted early for you," Pressley said.
"That's great," Crist replied. "Go and get five more."
According to reports filed Friday with the Florida Division of Elections, the Republican Party of Florida raised a whopping $65.8 million in the last quarter while the Florida Democratic Party raised $31 million.
The largest contributor to Scott's campaign has been the Republican Governors Association, whose contributors include many of the corporate and millionaire donors who also have written lucrative checks to Scott's political committee or the Republican Party. The organization sent Scott $18.5 million in contributions.
Among the largest contributors to the Republicans between Aug. 23 and Oct. 30 was Sheldon Adelson ($1.5 million), a Las Vegas casino operator who also has financed much of the opposition to the Amendment 2 medical marijuana efforts.
The biggest checks to the Democrats came from millionaire investor George Soros ($1 million), the Mostyn law firm ($1.1 million) and AFSCME ($1.3 million). Some special interests hedged their investments in the Republicans by also contributing — albeit in smaller amounts — to the Democrats.
Contact Adam C. Smith at [email protected] Follow @adamsmithtimes.