Gov. Rick Scott visibly stepped up his re-election campaign activity with a string of weekend events in North Florida. On Sunday, before he attended the Escambia County Lincoln Day Dinner in Pensacola, Scott spent two hours in rural Graceville in Jackson County, hard by the Florida-Alabama state line.
On a rainy and stormy Sunday afternoon, about 100 people crowded into the Circle Grill, a restaurant locally renowned for its fried shrimp. Scott worked the crowd, posed for pictures and touted his record of reducing debt and unemployment, getting the budget back in the black and creating jobs. The candidate who ran against the Republican Party machine the first time, in 2010, also went out of his way to introduce state Republican Party staffers Tim Saler and Susan Hepworth, who were on the trip.
"We're going to have another race," Scott said. "These elections have consequences. We have to show up. We have to tell our story ... If we don't tell our story, then it's our fault if everybody doesn't vote our way. Everybody should be a Republican."
Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth, tagged along on the Sunday campaign swing, which included a brief stop at Holmes Correctional Institution in Bonifay.
Jackson County is very dependent on state government for employment, and some at the Circle Grill said Scott's paring of the work force and his support for privatization in the prison system will require some explaining on the campaign trail.
"There's some mixed emotions," said civic activist Karen Fader. "The privatization is a real issue with state workers. They don't want to go through that re-application process." (Scott backed the complete privatization of all prison health care in the state).
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville; his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach; and Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna, all boosted Scott's re-election prospects at the Graceville stop. They said Scott deserves the credit for an improving economy that generated enough money to give pay raises to state workers for the first time in seven years.
"We all need a governor who's pro-life," Matt Gaetz told the crowd. "We need a governor who believes in the Second Amendment and our right to hear arms, and this governor has been firm on those issues."
Democrats outnumber Republicans in Jackson County by more than a 2-to-1 margin, but people in Marianna, Cottondale, Graceville and Sneads reliably vote Republican in statewide elections. Three years ago, Scott defeated Democrat Alex Sink by about 500 votes here (7,420 to 6,898).
Scott continues his re-election politicking on Monday night with a visit to the Ronald Reagan Blue Jeans and Black Tie Affair in Wakulla Springs.
-- Steve Bousquet