Politics & Government

Florida CFO Jeff Atwater stumps in Bradenton for Gov. Rick Scott

BRADENTON -- Jeff Atwater's campaign stop in Bradenton on Tuesday morning was more about reelecting Gov. Rick Scott than Atwater.

The Florida Republican, running for re-election as chief financial officer, came to Mixon Fruit Farms on his campaign bus at 8:30 a.m. to a crowd of 30 people sporting signs, stickers, buttons and shirts with his name. But despite the signs, Atwater never mentioned his own reelection or his opponent, Democrat William Rankin, but instead mainly focused on the reelection of the Republican Scott over Democratic nominee Charlie Crist.

"It's a horse race right now," Atwater said. "It's too close to call."

Atwater used a 20-minute speech to talk about problems with Crist and the Democratic party, point out local Republican candidates in the room and call on supporters to get people voting in the week before election day on Nov. 4.

Atwater said a lot of people were looking at the governor's race and had decided they didn't want to vote for either candidate. He said talking to those people about voting for Scott and convincing them to go to the polls was the key.

"We can't let them sit it out," Atwater said.

Atwater painted Crist's former term as governor as a disaster, when people stopped moving to Florida, unemployment went from 3.5 percent to 11.5 percent, $8 billion in reserves were wiped out and home prices dropped significantly.

"And what did he do? He said, 'I handled this so well, I think I'll go to Washington,'" Atwater said. "Then he switched from a Republican to an Independent because he said he lost his party. He didn't switch because he lost his party, he switched because Marco Rubio was kicking his butt."

Brendan Gilfillan, spokesman for the Crist campaign, said the global economic meltdown was to blame for Florida's downturn, and that blaming that on Crist was "ridiculous." He also said Crist credits his eventual switch to the Democratic Party to the Republican Party going too far to the right.

"He always says that he didn't leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left him," Gilfillan said.

Atwater also praised Scott, saying he had fixed Crist's mess. He emphasized Scott not raising taxes when he came into office despite the need to balance the budget, using the backdrop of the small business where the stop was held to illustrate his point.

"Scott said, 'I don't want small business owners sending one cent to Tallahassee," Atwater said.

Gilfillan, however, said Scott's record on economic turnaround was less than ideal.

"He promised to deliver 1 million jobs and he hasn't," Gilfillan said. "His own promises on jobs have been a complete failure."

Local Republicans such as Manatee County commissioners Carol Whitmore and Betsy Benac, state Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and state Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, came to the event at Mixon's and praised Atwater for his work as CFO so far.

"I think he's done a great job so far for our state so far, and I look forward to him continuing," Benac said. "I think it's really important that we have somebody who understands exactly where the revenue is coming from and where the revenue is going in this state, and he seems to have a great handle on that."

"Jeff Atwater is probably the best CFO we've had in years," Pilon added. "He really takes an interest in looking out for the people's money and working on fraud. He has a great group of investigators."