Rick Scott campaign moves to Gulf Coast: Different stops, same message

The Daily News is on the road this week shadowing the Rick Scott campaign and also began shadowing the Bill McCollum campaign for a week as of Thursday. Watch naplesnews.com and the Daily News for daily reports and subsequent stories on these two GOP governor candidates who face off Aug. 24.

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Video from NBC-2

Rick Scott walked into the Shell Factory in North Fort Myers to a generally friendly crowd and a warm applause on Thursday night.

Red, white and blue bunting draped the room. Patriotic images played on movie screens on either side of the stage.

For just shy of a half hour, Scott told the crowd why he believes he is the best choice to be Florida’s next governor.

“I’ve never run for office,” Scott says. “I’ve always been in business. So the way I look at this, this is like a job interview.”

It could have been Miami, Tampa, Orlando or any other city or town in Florida, because everywhere he goes, Scott, who lives in Naples, gives a variation of the same speech he’s perfected since announcing his candidacy in April.

He starts with his humble upbringing, his mother who worked a variety of jobs, and his father, a truck driver, who was usually unemployed at Christmas because the store shelves were fully stocked by Thanksgiving.

A slim man with a big smile and piercing blue eyes, Scott stands tall, occasionally rocking forward on the balls of his feet, and speaks softly while gesturing with his hands.

Over and over again, he uses the same lines and same stories.

There’s the one about his mother using a yard stick to encourage Scott and his brother to “get to work” and do their chores.

“If you didn’t agree, she’d make sure you agreed,” he says.

There’s the list of jobs he had growing up: selling TV Guides door to door, working as a fry cook, delivering newspapers, and cleaning phone booths.

“That’s the worst job,” Scott says.

He’s tough on career politicians, and speaks often of his beliefs, as in “Here’s my belief about education” and “Here’s my belief on immigration.”

Of course, he talks about his business success, starting with buying a doughnut shop, building his hospital giant Columbia/HCA and starting his current company Solantic Inc. Yet he rarely talks about the $1.7 billion fine Columbia/HCA paid while he was CEO because of Medicare fraud or the current allegations of fraud and overbilling at Solantic – allegations Scott denies.

When those issues do come up, Scott directs voters to a personal website.

He describes himself as an “across the board conservative,” and touts his economic plan, dubbed 7-7-7 because it promises 700,000 jobs over seven years utilizing seven steps, including tax cuts, regulatory reform and “accountability budgeting.”

Although he is a multimillionaire, Scott has a guy-next-door charm.

Susie Wiles, Scott’s campaign manager, said it’s important that Scott give a consistent message everywhere he goes. If he changed his tune to each crowd, it could be seen as pandering.

“Somebody that had a different message all the time, I’d be worried about,” Wiles said.

With less than two weeks until the Aug. 24 primary, Scott’s campaign is in full throttle and has been constantly ramping up since May, Wiles said. He generally lives in hotels, which became more bearable when his wife, Ann Scott, began traveling with him, and criss-crosses the state in his personal jet and rented cars and sport utility vehicles, Wiles said.

For the Republican primary, Scott is focusing on areas of the state with large swaths of Republicans. He generally does two or three public events per day, mixed in with private meetings, stops at local Republican party headquarters, and sign waving.

“Sure, it’s very long days and it’s very long work, but if you ask him, he will tell you he really has enjoyed meeting so many people,” Wiles said.

Some of the events are planned a few days ahead of time, but a lot of the campaigning is done on the fly, coordinated by a team in Fort Lauderdale.

Occasionally there will be a last-minute detour, as there was Tuesday when Scott flew from Fort Lauderdale to Tallahassee for a hastily planned press conference.

“You have to be nimble. You have to react to circumstances,” Wiles said. “Rick is an extremely even-tempered guy. He kind of puts his head down and gets it done.”

Scott’s public campaign events usually seem to be packed with supporters and some voters who are on the fence but leaning his way. That was the case on Thursday with Bill Kochakian, 72, and his wife Rae Kochakian, 71, retired Cape Coral residents and registered Republicans who are on board with the Scott campaign.

“I like the fact that he wants to try to change the way things are done in Tallahassee,” Bill Kochakian said. “I haven’t been very happy with the way things have transpired up there. ... McCollum, I’m sure he’s a nice guy, but if we elect him, it’s the same old, same old.”

Although he’s never run for office before, Scott has obviously learned to stay on message. While at a forum in Jacksonville, Scott answered a question about legalizing drugs and lowering incarceration rates by talking about improving schools through choice and measuring results.

That ability to stay on point frustrated North Fort Myers resident Joseph Kemmer, 49, a local musician who says he can’t afford health insurance.

At the Shell Factory, Kemmer asked Scott two questions: how he could improve health-care access, and why he advocates new immigration laws when current laws aren’t being enforced.

“He didn’t answer it,” Kemmer says. “He diverted it. He went back to his talking points.”

Prior to his stop in Fort Myers, Scott participated in a business round table in Sarasota, toured a Sarasota factory that manufactures strings and mouthpieces for musical instruments, and protested in West Palm Beach against the deal to buy U.S. Sugar land.

Earlier

SARASOTA _ Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott took a tour this afternoon of the Sarasota-based Cavanaugh Co., which manufactures strings and mouthpieces for musical instruments.

The stop came just after the release of the latest Mason-Dixon poll, which showed that for the first time in months, Scott is trailing his Republican rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, 34 percent to 30 percent. When asked about the poll, Scott downplayed it.

“We’re continuing to travel the state, talking about our plan, and we’re very confident we’re going to win on the 24th,” he said.

During the tour, Scott and his wife, Ann, learned about manufacturing supersensitive guitar strings and woodwind mouthpieces from Chief Operating Officer Ron Van Ostenbridge. He also talked with Scott about his company’s recent struggles.

The Cavanaugh Co. has struggled to break even over the past few years, and even considered leaving the state. Property taxes and taxes on equipment have been particularly burdenson, Van Ostenbridge said.

“We’d like to see more help for local manufacturing, domestic manufacturers,” Van Ostenbridge said. “Florida is a difficult state to run manufacturing in. It’s much cheaper to go to the Carolinas, to Georgia, to Alabama, but we live in paradise and we’d like to stay here.”

If elected governor, Scott said he would continue to talk to business men and women about what they need to prosper.

“The biggest problem we have in the state is we don’t have enough jobs,” Scott said.

Scott also reacted to the South Florida Water Management District board’s vote Thursday to approve a state plan to buy 26,791 acres for about $197.4 million from U.S. Sugar. State officials say the land will be used to help restore the Everglades, suffering from years of dikes and diversions to make way for homes and farms.

“That transaction, where they’re talking about buying that land from U.S. Sugar, is just Bill McCollum’s secret sugar deal,” Scott said. “It’s going to be a secret tax. It’s going to raise the taxes for 7.5 million Floridians at a time when we have a big crisis.”

Scott will be speaking at the Shell Factory in Fort Myers at 5:30 p.m. today.

MORE DAILY NEWS COVERAGE ON RICK SCOTT

Rick Scott has a prayer, Christian and business supporters say at North Florida events

Change of plans: Rick Scott leaves campaign trail to respond to Bill McCollum's statements

On the road with Rick Scott: Campaign starts week on Florida's east coast

Gloves come off in second debate between gov candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum

Third wheel? GOP’s Mike McCalister is on ballot with Rick Scott, Bill McCollum

POLL: Columbia/HCA whistleblowers stunned Rick Scott is atop Florida governor polls

Church co-founded, led by Rick Scott gives aid to Immokalee’s farmworkers

Rick Scott left Presbyterian church to help found Naples Community Church

Rick Scott for governor of Florida catches on with out-of-state donors

PHOTOS: Rick Scott discusses Arizona immigration law in Naples

Finance report: Scott loaned his campaign $22.9M and has spent nearly as much

Click here for related story: For the record, do Rick Scott and Bill McCollum vote themselves?

Click here for related story: VIDEO/PHOTOS: Rick Scott stops in Naples during state-wide six day bus tour

Click here for related story: POLL: McCollum campaigns on GOP opponent Rick Scott's turf

Click here for related story: Judge: McCollum can get funds to match Rick Scott

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Click here for related story: Rick Scott interviews: Governor candidate on HCA, oil spill, illegal immigration

Click here for related story: VIDEO/PHOTOS: Florida governor candidates Sink, McCollum, Chiles make pitch to editors

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Click here for related story: McCollum wants to debate Rick Scott; Mitt Romney endorses in governor race

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Click here for Daily News' initial report on Rick Scott's campaign for governor, HCA and his background

Click here for a Q&A with the Daily News and Rick Scott

__ Connect with Ryan Mills at www.naplesnews.com/staff/ryan-mills/

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