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Chris King takes early campaign for Florida governor on the road

via @stevebousquet

Nobody paid much attention to the young man sitting at a corner table at a Tallahassee Starbucks on Friday. But he has a very audacious goal: to be the next governor of Florida.

Democrat Chris King, 38, an affordable housing executive and father of three from Winter Park, was on the trail just days after he launched his campaign with a hometown kickoff. He joins a diverse and wide-open field that includes Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

King is eager to tell his story. "I believe in the progressive values of equality and justice and fairness, and caring for the neediest among us," King said. "That's how I've run my business."

He said Florida Democrats keep losing races for governor because they don't articulate a vision and a message to voters, especially on economic issues. But the last two races were close -- about 1 percentage point both times -- so that while the losses pile up, his party is keeping within striking distance.

"The last time we won, I was a freshman in high school," said King, referring to Lawton Chiles' narrow re-election victory over Jeb Bush in 1994.

King supports raising the minimum wage and restoring the voting rights of non-violent felons. He opposes the death penalty in most cases, saying it conflicts with his religious views, but that he would enforce the law as governor. "We need to limit its use," King said. "I believe it's a penalty in decline."

He said Gov. Rick Scott committed a "terrible overreach" by taking 22 cases away from Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala, who opposes capital punishment, but he said she "made a misstep" and should have been more direct with voters last year in explaining her position on the death penalty.

The problem with Tallahassee, King said, is that "one party controls everything, and they're about to control the courts as well ... There's been no competition of ideas. There's been no incentive to think big. We have small-ball issue after small-ball issue," using the proposed changes to the "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law as an example.

But he said he agreed with House Speaker Richard Corcoran's call for stronger ethics laws, such as a six-year "revolving door" ban on legislators becoming lobbyists.

A first-time candidate for public office, King is on a huge learning curve, and he faces the daunting task of introducing himself to more than 4 million Democrats across the state who have never heard of him. But he has one thing going for him -- time. King is a full year ahead of where "Rick who?" was when he emerged from obscurity to run for governor in 2010.

King is not a self-funding candidate, but he has put up $1 million of his own money to get started.

Senior adviser Omar Khan, who ran Charlie Crist's 2014 campaign for governor, sat nearby as King fielded questions for more than a half hour, and three other staffers sat at a table nearby. From Tallahassee, King was headed to Tampa Bay for a series of meetings and an appearance at the spring gathering of Florida College Democrats at USF on Saturday.

--STEVE BOUSQUET, Tampa Bay Times