HOLLYWOOD, Fla., July 16, 2012
Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
Gathering in South Florida for their annual fundraising soiree, state Democrats made clear what they believe is their strongest argument against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in Florida: Gov. Rick Scott.
With Scott's poll numbers continuing to struggle and Florida a critical battleground in the November election, Democrats see the unpopular businessman governor as a uniquely powerful albatross against Romney, a former Massachusetts governor under fire for his time at the head of private equity firm Bain Capital as he runs against President Barack Obama.
"I think there's just a couple of words that speak to the current Republican brand and the way that we're going to present it, two words I'll use with some frequency tonight and for the rest of this campaign: Rick Scott," Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said.
Smith and other Democrats bashed Scott at a press conference before the party's Jefferson Jackson Dinner at the Westin Diplomat Hotel here, an event a party spokeswoman said had drawn about 1,000 people and raised about $750,000. And the attacks on Scott and another controversial Republican, Congressman Allen West, continued through the dinner.
Smith knocked "the toxic brand of Allen West politics," and when West appeared on screen during a video at the dinner, attendees booed.
But most of the fire was reserved for Scott -- or what Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz called the "Romney-Scott vision."
"Now, nationally, Mitt Romney wants to do to America's hard-working middle-class families what Rick Scott has done to middle-class Floridians," said Wasserman Schultz, who doubles as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
And Democrats have delighted in pointing out that despite Romney's repeated visits to Florida -- 54 by Smith's count Saturday -- the nominee has yet to appear with Scott.
"I'm assuming that Governor Romney thinks Tallahassee's a no-fly zone right now," Smith quipped.
Last month, Scott told reporters that he wasn't being shut out by the Romney campaign. "They've asked me to go to things, but it's always at the last minute for me," he said.
Democrats, though, brushed off the idea that their campaign will be exclusively negative. Smith said Florida voters would also be reminded of Obama' accomplishments, including withdrawing Americans from Iraq, killing Osama bin Laden and helping to save the automobile industry.
"If they want to make this a referendum on this president, and they really have to because they know their dog can't hunt, I'm absolutely glad to defend this president's record all over the state of Florida," Smith said.
Beyond trying to get Florida's 29 electoral votes for Obama, Democrats are also focusing on the re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and efforts to erode large GOP edges in the state's congressional delegation and the Legislature. But even they seemed to tacitly admit that the latter would be a slow process, particularly in the state House and Senate.
"We're going to eliminate that supermajority that's currently in Tallahassee," said Rep. Perry Thurston, the incoming Democratic leader in the House.