Florida’s brutal and expensive race for governor is ending in the same way it began: Bitter, personal and close as ever.
What started months ago with a wave of television ads wrapped up Monday with the two main rivals jockeying for every possible vote. Polls continued to show that the race between Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist were essentially tied.
Scott and Crist crisscrossed the state on the final day before Election Day, confronted with reminders of the testy nature of the contest that has included more than $100 million worth of ads from the campaigns and their allies. More than 3 million Floridians have already voted.
Scott boldly predicted that he would have a “big win” over Crist.
“We are going to kick Charlie’s rear,” Scott told a crowd of hundreds gathered at an outside square at the central Florida GOP stronghold of The Villages.
Crist closed out his day of campaigning at a rally with former President Bill Clinton where he was wildly received by several hundred students at the University of Central Florida. Clinton criticized Scott for not accepting federal money to expand Medicaid and for cutting education spending. He said Scott is a divisive tea party governor and Crist showed during his time in office that he could work with both parties.
“You cannot elect your grow apart candidate,” Clinton said about Scott. “You’ve got to elect your work together candidate. Not ‘Let’s polarize everybody. If we dump enough negative ads on ’em, we’ll beat ’em anyway.”
The tone of the final day of campaigning was heated. It began with Scott being confronted by a loud group of protesters chanting “too shady for the Sunshine State” and “it’s not working,” a dig at Scott’s election motto. Inside a Greek restaurant, Scott ripped Crist as someone who “ran away” after one term as governor when the state’s economy soured and the state’s unemployment rate soared.
“We’re going to win because we have passion, because it’s about families,” said Scott, who added later that Crist “has never been worried about families.”
Crist spent the first part of his day in South Florida. Outside a Miami union hall, Crist supporters crossed the street to drown out a contingent of Scott backers that included Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.
“I’ve never been heckled by a lieutenant governor before, it’s kind of weird,” Crist said.
Crist made a couple of unscheduled stops in Broward County, including visits to a barbershop and a Jamaican restaurant.
Alphia Stevenson, a child welfare worker, said she had already voted for him.
“I liked him when he was a Republican. I knew he was a Democrat in disguise,” Stevenson said. “Charlie Crist. He’s the man. From Republican to independent and now he’s on the real team-Democrat.”
Scott also visited a market in Plant City, where he shared a strawberry shake with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and chatted with the owner and workers. Scott finished the day with stops at The Villages and an Orlando motorcycle dealer with both Jindal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Tom Milton, an 80-year-old retiree and tea party activist at The Villages, said it was “unthinkable” to contemplate the chance of a Crist victory. He said he was still a strong backer of Scott even though he dropped some of his 2010 positions, including a push for a tough anti-immigration law similar to one passed in Arizona.
“He has a vision for the state,” Milton said of Scott. “Charlie doesn’t have any kind of vision that I can tell.”
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.