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Gubernatorial race heats up

Crist seeks Black voters with new Liberty City office

Erick Johnson | 5/22/2014, 9 a.m.
The battle for the state’s highest office heats up with just five months before the gubernatorial election. Saturday Democratic candidate ...
Crist stirred the crowds with a rousing speech at the opening of his new campaign office in Liberty City last Saturday. Photo by Erick Johnson

With just five months before the gubernatorial election, Democratic candidate Charlie Crist opened campaign offices in the Black and Latino communities Saturday. The politician is seeking to win over voters by bringing his message as a “peoples” governor as the battle for the state’s highest office heats up.

In Liberty City, Crist spoke to about 75 community leaders, residents and supporters who celebrated the opening of his new campaign office on the NW corner of 62nd Street and 7th Avenue. The opening of the 2500-square-foot office was highlighted by a rousing rally led by Crist, who vowed to end the political career of Republican incumbent Rick Scott, whose policies many view as out of touch with Blacks, Latinos and the poor.

Because of the large crowds, organizers moved the celebration outside the office in front of a strip shopping center just several hundred yards away. There, Crist stood in front of a dramatic mural of President Obama and the late Dr. Martin Luther King as he shared his challenges growing up as the second child in a Greek family of four. Crist said his experiences helped shaped him as a leader who is better equipped to serve the public than Scott.

“What would you rather have, a peoples governor or a corporate governor?” he asked the crowd.

As Scott battles an image of being a corrupt governor for rich lobbyists and the wealthy voters, Crist is campaigning as a candidate for the poor and middle class, a theme that placed then re-elected Pres. Obama in the White House for four more years. Advocating for the poor and middle class also re-shaped Crist’s own political career and campaign, which was modeled after the election success of the nation’s first Black president.

“This office will be run by volunteers. We are running a grassroots campaign from the bottom up - much like President Obama’s,” said campaign spokesman Franco Ripple in a statement to The Miami Times.

Crist served as Florida Governor from 2007 to 2011. A former Republican, he lost the U.S. Senate race in 2010 to Marcio Rubio before switching to the Democratic Party. After endorsing Obama's re-election campaign in 2012, Crist said he registered as a Democrat after growing disillusioned with the Republican party, which he believes does not support Blacks, Latinos, minorities and the poor.

Critics say Crist’s move was an insincere and opportunistic effort to capitalize on the minority vote, but Crist over time gained the trust of Black and Latino voters by strongly supporting key issues on medicaid expansion, jobs, education and college assistance to illegal, undocumented immigrants.

He leads Scott in most polls, some by as much as 10 percent. But new polls show that margin is decreasing. American Future Fund, a conservative group, has released a poll showing Republican Gov. Rick Scott with a 42-38 percent lead. But the latest poll from the widely-used Quinnipiac University showed 48 percent of Floridians preferred Crist, compared to Scott’s 38 percent.

Regardless, many expect the race between Crist and Scott to heat up as the two campaign for undecided voters in heavily-populated South Florida where Latinos voters are the majority of the electorate.