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Prelude to 2014: Scott-Crist race already underway

Two years before he’s even on the ballot, Rick Scott is already the $5 million candidate.

Expect that number — the amount he raised through his personal political committee since winning office — to more than quadruple in the coming months. In addition, he has the Republican Party’s coffers and his personal millions at the ready.

Scott will need every penny.

The unpopular governor faces two formidable challenges: His own record and the chance that his predecessor, Charlie Crist, might run against him.

At this early stage, it appears that the potential Scott-Crist election matchup is all about elections — specifically an elections law Scott signed.

Scott wouldn’t even mention Crist’s name during an interview that aired Sunday on CBS4’s Facing South Florida With Jim DeFede. Scott, though, subtly contrasted the job-growth on his watch with that of Crist’s.

“Think about it, the four years before I became governor, we had lost 825,000 jobs. Unemployment had gone from 3.5 to 11.1 percent,” Scott said.

Scott also played defense during the interview over his decision to sign HB1355, which cut back early voting days. Unlike Crist in 2008, Scott refused to extend early voting hours in 2012 to cope with long lines at the polls.

The net result: an actual decrease in cumulative early voting hours of 20 percent in 2012 compared to 2008 in regions like South Florida.

“After I signed the executive order expanding it,” Crist told The Palm Beach Post last Sunday, “I heard from Republicans around the state who were bold enough to share it with me that, ‘You just gave the election to Barack Obama.’ ”

Then came along HB 1355. Scott subsequently signed it in the first legislative session after he won office (Obama narrowly won Florida again, anyway).

“I assume they decided, ‘It’s 2011, Crist is gone, let’s give it a shot,’ ” Crist told the Post. “And that’s exactly what they did. And it is exactly what it turned out to be.”

The Republican Party of Florida sprung into action the day after The Post story broke by publishing a rebuttal from a lobbyist who disputed the characterizations of his remarks. The comments, incidentally, jibe with what many top GOP consultants and a few Republican lawmakers privately said about HB1355, a draft of which was authored by a Republican lawyer.

The party also pointed out that the main source in the story, former RPOF chairman Jim Greer, is under indictment for allegedly defrauding the party. Greer denies the claims and is suing RPOF for failing to pay him a severance agreed to by party leaders.

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