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  1. Florida Politics

Bousquet column: Panhandle key to Rick Scott's re-election bid

Published Sep. 15, 2014

The country song Where I Come From, an anthem of small-town pride, was blaring from speakers outside a Panama City Beach landmark Friday morning.

Inside Captain Anderson's seafood restaurant, Gov. Rick Scott told the crowd of local Republicans where he came from.

"I don't even know my natural father," he said. "My mom was going through a divorce when I was born. She had an abusive husband. She remarried a year or so after I was born, and I have an adopted father. We lived in public housing, because my parents struggled for money."

Scott went on at length about the person who has had the greatest impact on his life: his mother, Esther, who died nearly two years ago.

"She was tough. She said, 'If you want money, go to work. Go get a job,' " Scott said, as he launched into a riff about how as governor he has brought back the jobs that Charlie Crist let disappear.

As it was in 2010, it's all about jobs for Scott, but on the stump, he looks and sounds more confident today than the wide-eyed neophyte who burst onto the scene four years ago without much going for him, other than a very big checkbook. All those zeroes have a way of obscuring one's humble beginnings.

With the start of early voting five weeks away, Scott sounds like a politician on the cusp of winning a second term. "Four more years!" the crowd chanted.

It must be remembered that this was the Panhandle, the reddest part of Florida, where the only visible thing that was blue was Scott's gigantic tour bus, decorated with the campaign slogan, "Let's Keep Working."

But Panama City and Bay County delivered big for Scott when he needed it most four years ago, in a hard-fought Republican primary against Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Scott received 62 percent of the votes in the 2010 primary, a ratio greater than any other county in the state. When the GOP establishment, from Jeb Bush on down, gave Scott the cold shoulder, it helped to have the support of popular Panhandle leaders such as state Rep. Jimmy Patronis, whose family owns Captain Anderson's.

Scott needs big voter turnout in the Panhandle again to help offset an expected avalanche of Democratic votes for Crist in South Florida.

At campaign stops in Destin, Crestview and Crawfordville last week, Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera repeatedly ripped Crist for chasing a U.S. Senate seat instead of running for a second term as governor four years ago.

They said Crist spent his first two years as governor angling to be John McCain's running mate and the next two trying to go to Washington.

"Charlie didn't even want to be governor," Lopez-Cantera said at Captain Anderson's. "He didn't care about us. He cared about Charlie."

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined the bus tour Friday and amplified the theme in his in-your-face style, calling the Scott-Crist race a pure referendum on integrity.

"Such a tax-raiser. Such a job-killer," Christie said of Crist. "You can't give him the keys back to the statehouse in Tallahassee."

"No! No! No!" the crowd roared back.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.