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NAPLES — Over the past six months, Rick Scott hasn’t spent much time at his Naples home.
But on Tuesday — exactly two weeks before election day — the Naples businessman and Republican candidate for governor made a swing through Collier County for a campaign rally with hundreds of supporters at Vergina on Fifth Avenue.
“Isn’t it great to be in Naples?” Scott asked the crowd of people gathered around the Vergina bar just after 5 p.m. “I’m never here anymore.”
Campaigning with Scott was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a rising star in the Republican Party and suspected 2012 presidential candidate. Scott knows how to create jobs, Pawlenty said, adding that “the quality of life of Floridians, the quality of life of Minnesotans, depends on having access to jobs.”
“You are so fortunate to have Rick Scott running for governor because there’s a lot of people who flap their jaws about these issues, but he has walked the walk,” Pawlenty told the enthusiastic crowd filled almost exclusively with Scott die-hards. “So it’s important to look at the records and say who has actually produced the jobs, who’s been involved in business, who’s got the credibility on these issues.”
During a speech that ran just shy of 10 minutes, Scott never mentioned the name of his opponent in the race, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. But on several occasions he brought up President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders.
The Sink campaign has criticized Scott for seeming to “think that running for governor is all about President Obama,” but the crowd at Vergina didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they ate it up.
“So who wants to get the state back to work, huh? Who thinks we have to stop Obama and all of his problems?,” Scott asked the cheering crowd. “How about getting rid of (Speaker of the House Nancy) Pelosi, and (Senate Majority Leader Harry ) Reid, and Obamacare and the stimulus that just put debt on our country and no new jobs?”
Scott touted his “7-7-7 plan” to create 700,000 jobs in seven years, and promised to roll back regulations and cut taxes if elected.
“We’re going to have a governor that every day says how do I get business people to expand in this city, in this state? How do I get people to move their businesses here, not in the freezing north,” Scott said in a light-hearted jab at Pawlenty.
“I didn’t know you were standing there or clearly I wouldn’t have said that,” Scott told Pawlenty. “Gov. Pawlenty finishes this fall, so I’m sure that he’ll be moving down here anytime now.”
Deborah McKown, 49, of East Naples and her husband Frank McKown, 68, sat at the bar before the rally wearing shirts with American flag designs. They’ve supported Scott since he entered the race, but hadn’t heard him speak before. They’ve both already voted for him.
“He’s talking about making America strong again, constitutionally correct,” Deborah McKown said.
Dorene McShey, who has also been supporting Scott for months, said she believes that if Sink wins, the state will end up with an income tax. Sink denies that she plans to raise taxes, saying recently that “we can’t take any more tax increases right now.”
“She’s a liberal. She’s a Democrat. She’s an Obama supporter,” McShey said of Sink. “We’ll all have to suffer from a state income tax. We need conservative business people that can get past the feelings and political correctness and set us on the right course.”
Down the bar, 52-year-old Michael Lissack wore a Rick Scott sticker on his forehead.
Lissack brought a plan he’s developed for improving the housing market that he planned to share with Scott. He called it a “positive message he should be using instead of the negative ones that have been the focus of the campaign.”
Lissack called the negative tone of the campaign so far “disgusting.”
“You can be for a candidate and not necessarily approve of everything that occurs in the campaign,” he said.
Scott and Sink will square off in the second of three debates tonight at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. The debate will be aired at 7 p.m. on WINK-TV.
Sink has not made any recent appearances in Collier County, although she has vowed to make a stop in all of Florida’s 67 counties before election day.