BY BETH REINHARD
MIAMI - Visiting Cuban-American seniors and Radio Mambi in Miami, Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott introduced himself Monday to one of the few communities across Florida that hasn't seen his $16 million media blitz.
"Buenos dias. Mi nombre es Rick Scott," the Naples multimillionaire in a navy suit told about 200 people waiting for a hot lunch at the Armando Badia Senior Center.
Scott, who visited the famed Versailles restaurant in Little Havana this month, has not yet put his money behind Hispanic outreach.
"We will be," he said, when asked about airing ads on Spanish-language TV and radio. "It's clearly something that's very important to us."
The son of a truck driver, Scott told the seniors that his "humble background'' allowed him to appreciate their financial struggles. A campaign staffer drew attention to the Styrofoam cup of Cuban coffee in his hand; another aide described his Spanish-speaking ability as not as good as the skills of former Gov. Jeb Bush but better than former President George W. Bush.
Scott's halting Spanish and brief remarks in English failed to whip up the crowd, though they appreciated that he came bearing two dozen gifts for the raffle: hand soaps for the ladies and Cuban coffee for the gents.
"I think he wants to help," 77-year-old Alicia Perez said in Spanish, waving her hand and shouting when Scott called out the number on her raffle ticket.
Perez said she was unaware of Scott's past as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, which paid a record-setting $1.7 billion fine for bilking Medicare and has been at the center of attacks from his chief rival, Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum.
"I've been very up-front with voters," said Scott, though he has repeatedly declined to answer detailed questions about the fraud case. "People make mistakes and when you're the CEO of the company, you take responsibility."
Radio Mambi host Ninoska Perez, who conducted Scott's first interview on Spanish-language radio on Monday, said she was concerned about Columbia/HCA's record.
"I think there's a lot more that people need to know before they make up their minds," she said. "This is a very important issue for Floridians. ... Rick Scott has risen so quickly, and nobody knew who he was just a few months ago."
Scott, who has never run for office before, surpassed McCollum in the polls by bankrolling an unprecedented advertising spree criticizing McCollum as a career politician and touting Arizona's new crackdown on illegal immigration. Scott suggested he would not run the immigration spot in Spanish, though he didn't rule it out completely.
"We run ads that are important to that community, and what's important to this community is jobs," Scott said.