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Even with two special congressional elections currently taking place in Florida, this week the leading gubernatorial candidates -- by exchanging attacks -- offered voters a reminder that they’re in November's political main event.
The latest clash in the candidate battle began early Wednesday when Gov. Rick Scott dodged a question from Chuck Todd of MSNBC asking if he would sign an anti-LGBT bill like the one before Jan Brewer in Arizona. Later in the day Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist was quick to criticize Scott for not taking a stand on the issue.
But Scott fired back in a statement Wednesday afternoon. "I don’t want to tell Gov. Brewer what to do, she can do what’s best for her state. From my understanding of that bill, I would veto it in Florida because it seems unnecessary."
And the governor didn't stop there. "In Florida we are focused on economic growth, and not on things that divide us. We are for freedom here in Florida. And we want everyone to come here, create jobs, and live in freedom, and that includes religious liberty.
"I am very much opposed to forcing anyone to violate their conscience or their religious beliefs, and of course, I’m very much opposed to discrimination. As a society, we need to spend more time learning to love and tolerate each other, and less time trying to win arguments in courts of law," he said. "Other states can spend their time fighting over issues like this, but in Florida we are laser focused on creating jobs and opportunities. It’s working, and we need to keep it going and will not get distracted by this or anything else."
On Wednesday, Omar Khan, Crist’s new campaign manager, responded to an ad Gov. Rick Scott released on Tuesday which bashed President Barack Obama for shifting funds from Medicare Advantage to pay for his signature federal health-care law. Former Republican Crist is leading in the contest for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott.
“Rick Scott's got a new ad up that demands immediate response,” Khan informed supporters Wednesday. “In the ad, Gov. Scott stares straight at the camera and knowingly recycles the false, debunked claim that Obamacare somehow ‘raids’ Medicare. Clearly, Scott prefers to raid Medicare the old-fashioned way: insurance fraud.”
Crist has been hitting Scott’s record in the private sector, specifically his time at Columbia/HCA. During Scott’s tenure as CEO of that company, Columbia/HCA paid $1.7 billion in fines to the federal government for Medicare fraud. Crist has promised Scott’s record at Columbia/HCA will be one of his chief lines of attack during this campaign and Khan picked up that theme on Wednesday.
“Scott's former health care company, Columbia/HCA, was forced to pay the largest Medicare fraud settlement in the history of the United States,” Khan continued. “But somehow you won't find mention of that in the ad. This is the kind of brazen dishonesty and blatant hypocrisy we're up against in this election.
“Rick Scott thinks he can win this race by blanketing the airwaves with false attack ads that distort the truth and obscure the clear choice in this election,” Khan added.
On Tuesday, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) took aim at Crist. Citing a Politico interview last week with Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt., the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), Gail Gitcho, a spokeswoman for the RGA, slammed Crist’s economic record.
"On Friday, Democrat Governors Association Chairman and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin told Politico that ‘Charlie Crist has a proven track record of creating jobs and getting results in Florida,’” said Gitcho on Tuesday. “Under Charlie’s failed leadership, there were more than 820,000 fewer people employed in Florida when he left office. Charlie’s ‘Accelerate Florida’ stimulus plan was a failure. And Charlie’s ‘Back to Work’ program – using President Obama’s failed stimulus – was a bust, too. Does Gov. Shumlin even know who Charlie Crist is?”
Trying to catch Crist in the battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, former state Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich continued to try to kill two birds with one stone by taking aim at the “Bush-Crist-Scott” policies.
“Sixteen years of Republican governors in Florida have left our education system decimated,” Rich told supporters this week. “Improving our education system is my No. 1 priority!”
Rich also ramped up her opposition to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law this week. Despite Crist spending most of his political career as a Republican, he has a strong lead over Rich in the Democratic primary, according to the polls.
“The sad reality is that laws intended to make Floridians safer are, in fact, making us less safe,” Rich said on Tuesday. “Our state shouldn’t be a place where people are afraid that every parking lot argument could end in gunfire.”
Rich pointed to the recent Trayvon Martin and Michael Dunn cases as reasons why the law needs to be changed.
“Twice in two years, unarmed teenagers have been killed and their shooters have been acquitted. There is clearly a problem with the law,” said Rich. “Imagining you are in danger simply can’t be a justification for using deadly force. The law simply isn’t working, and the time has come to change it.”
Rich also called for more gun control, arguing it was time for Florida to crack down on the purchases of firearms at gun shows and run universal background checks on anyone who tries to buy a gun.
Adrian Wyllie, the favorite for the Libertarian nomination to challenge Scott, also went on the attack on Wednesday, going after the two chief candidates in the race.
Wyllie ripped into Scott as a “big-spending, big-government, progressive Republican governor” but he also took aim at Crist. Wyllie portrayed Crist in the same terms he used for Scott, calling the Democratic front-runner a “big-spending, big-government, progressive former Republican governor.”
As he continues his bid, Wyllie is trying to hold to libertarian positions on both economic and social issues. Calling for major cuts to the state government, Wyllie’s proposed budget would reduce the state budget to below $52 billion.
“I am proposing a 30 percent cut to the state budget,” Wyllie said. “Most of that will be to noncritical services, and will simply eliminate waste, inefficiency, unnecessary bureaucracy, corporate welfare and, in a few cases, outright fraud.”