Dispatch #2 from the Crist Express: Campaigns dispute numbers

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Charlie Crist’s three-day, five-city bus tour of the state quickly became a numbers argument.

Crist, running for governor as a Democrat, dubbed the campaign swing “Restore the Cuts” to draw a distinction between his education policies as governor with those of incumbent Gov. Rick Scott.

“We invested in education because I know it is the right thing,” said Crist after reminding supporters that Scott called for a $3 billion cut to public schools in his first budget proposal. The legislature balked at Scott’s request and reduced the cut to 1.3 billion.

“This bus tour is about restoring those cuts. About doing what is right for Florida, what is right for Florida children,” said Crist. “Education is the number one issue in the state and the distinction cannot be more clear.”

Republicans agreed that there is no comparison between Scott’s performance and Crist’s. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton, arrived before Crist at the Tallahassee event and said that Gov. Scott’s focus on job creation cleaned up an economic mess left by Crist and enabled lawmakers to spend more on public schools each of the past three years.

Crist countered that his term was defined by a world-wide economic meltdown but that his final budget, when adjusted for inflation, still directed more money towards schools than the state’s current budget.

“And he has a $2 billion surplus,” Crist said in Jacksonville. “And he still has not matched what I did during the recession for per-pupil funding. We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a priority problem.”

The Crist bus tour received a Tallahassee sendoff Wednesday from about 25 supporters and was greeted by about 30 supporters and Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, chair of the Scott reelection campaign.

“Actually the crowd is about 20 if you take away our people,” said Thrasher watching Crist greet people at a city park. “That’s weak for a governor’s race at this stage of the campaign. I can guarantee you if this was our event we would have the entire local delegation and the place would be packed.”

It was an observation, like Crist’s comments on education spending, which opened a discussion about numbers and what they may represent.

“We have 30,000 people who have donated $100 or less and they have  a thousand,” said Steve Schale, a Crist advisor. “That’s a better indicator of enthusiasm,” then the number of people who show up to a mid-day event in the middle of the week.

The Huffington Post is tracking surveys from 18 different pollsters and the consensus is Scott has less than 2 point lead among voters.

The Crist bus tour makes stops in Orlando and Tampa Thursday and concludes in Miami on Friday. There are 83 days left in the campaign.