SARASOTA -- In a statistical dead heat in the polls with Democrat challenger Charlie Crist with six weeks left before the Nov. 4 election, Republican Gov. Rick Scott came to Sarasota and Manatee counties Sunday to convince people he should be Florida's next governor.
Smiling, posing, shaking hands and looking far from a standing governor on cruise control, Scott seemed eager to put the time in.
He realizes he has to at this point.
Crist is also focused on Manatee and Sarasota counties. The Crist campaign has a fundraiser from 12:30-2:30 p.m. Monday at The Beach Bistro on Anna Maria Island and Crist will be at the Sarasota Democratic Headquarters, 7358 S. Tamiami Trail, at 3:45 p.m. Monday, said Dallas Toth,
a field organizer for Southwest Florida in the Crist campaign.
Scott started Sunday in Manatee and Sarasota by going to Saints Peter & Paul the Apostles Catholic Church on 75th Street West in Bradenton and Sarasota Baptist Church on Proctor Road in Sarasota.
He attended Saints Peter and Paul with Bradenton state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
"Yes, they know me from the TV commercials," Scott quipped with a grin when asked if he got a reaction from the congregation at Saints Peter & Paul.
After church, Scott stopped at a Starbucks and Jason's Deli then spent a half hour shaking every hand and posing for every picture at a 2:30 p.m. stop at his Sarasota campaign headquarters on Interstate Boulevard, which was packed with about 40 volunteers who have made 120,000 calls to the public on his behalf since May.
Scott was up on everything big happening in the area.
"Oct. 16, right, that's when the big mall opens," Scott told the crowd, getting the opening date right.
Scott wouldn't say if he was an "Apple man" when asked, a reference to one of the more than 100 stores opening at the Mall at University Town Center on the border of Sarasota and Manatee counties.
"I'm for any store that is Florida owned," the governor said.
Talk of the mall gave Scott a segue to brag about his job creation record. His voice rose as he told the crowd: "The mall is a good example that we have added 643,000 jobs in the last three years and eight months and, in that time, 250,000 people have moved to Florida to work."
Scott was in battle mode.
"Not if, but when," Scott sharply told a reporter who started a question at the campaign office with: "If you get elected..."
Scott took questions from the volunteers. Mike Cook of Sarasota, a military veteran who made more phone calls than anyone at 11,167, asked the governor if problems at the embattled Veterans Administration are being fixed.
"I'm concerned about the lack of transparency," Scott said. "We need to know what is going on before we can fix the problem."
Cook discussed his view of the race between Scott and Crist, having talked on the phone to thousands of voters.
"I have found that voters want a factual reason for voting and they do not like negative ads," Cook said, a criticism that touches both campaigns. "But I will say voters are extremely encouraged by what Rick Scott has done in office. They tell me he's done a good job and has a proven track record and he's strong on veteran issues."
When asked about the tight race and Crist, Scott said: "It's about someone who had the job and walked away from it. I know the value of a job."
Toth said he supports Crist because he is strong on education.
"My sister is a teacher, and I know that Charlie has sisters who are teachers, and that resonates with me," Toth said. "I feel I am looking out for my family by supporting Charlie, who supports the environment as well."
Scott also accused Crist of studying the polls and changing his position on issues depending on poll results.
After the campaign office stop, Scott spent a hour walking through Southside Village south of Sarasota, rapping on close to 30 front doors, said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for the governor.
"He got to talk to people and gave them some literature and asked them for their vote," Schutz said.
Scott also got caught in Sarasota-Manatee's unceasing rain.
"We stood under an awning until the weather cleared up," Schutz said.
The governor left the area Sunday evening to campaign Monday in Central Florida, Schutz said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.