MIAMI — As of Thursday morning, Nicole Rutsky was unsure if she would even vote in the Florida governor’s race.
“I changed my mind,” she said after a rally with Clinton and Sink at Miami-Dade College.
Talk of investing in small businesses to grow jobs and improving public schools won over Rutsky, 30, who visited the early voting rally with her brother, Michael Rutsky, 29.
The two traveled to Miami together from their home in Hollywood, both of them undecided on the governor’s race, but excited at the prospect of meeting Clinton.
Clinton’s appearance at Thursday’s rally served to energize an audience of several hundred that started out a little sluggish, slow to respond to the calls for enthusiasm from the people warming up the crowd.
Even Alex Sink herself couldn’t rally the crowd the way Clinton did as he talked in the folksy, down-home coloquialisms he is known for.
He was one part cheerleader as he talked Sink up back stage before the rally, and two parts evangelical preacher, as he riled the crowd up with defenses of the federal government’s actions during the financial crisis, which have been turned around on Sink to attack her party affiliation.
“Let me tell you something, folks,” Clinton said. “We had to do that stimulus bill because when you get in a hole — and we were in a hole — what’s the first rule? Stop digging, right?”
As the governor’s race enters its final days, the Daily News is going on the road with the Alex Sink and Rick Scott campaigns. This is the first in a series of reports on Sink’s tour of Florida. Scott’s campaign trip is next week. For more election coverage, return to naplesnews.com daily and pick up the Daily News now through Nov. 2.
He said the classic line from Republicans is to accuse Democrats of spending too much, and to urge voters to throw liberals out, and vote conservatives back in.
“My answer is, it was a very big hole, and at least we quit digging,” Clinton continued. “Don’t bring back the shovel brigade.”
His performance — and it is like a performance art for Clinton — left the crowd chuckling and cheering alternately.
Thursday’s appearance was one of nearly 100 Clinton has made on behalf of candidates all over the country this election season. Such is his power to energize crowds and curry favor with moderates.
“Everything that was said was nice,” said Monique Flennory, 18, a student at Miami-Dade College. “I believe that if anything is possible, he can help with it.”
Flennory will vote in her first election in November, and said she heard a lot on Thursday that endeared her to Sink, but she still wants to read up a little more on the candidates. However, Flennory said she is worried that people her age are mostly tuning out during this election.
For some supporters at Thursday’s rally, particularly more longtime voters, the imperative to vote is clear. They say they are energized, though the mood in the country has been one of languishing support for Democratic candidates.
“We cannot take this abusive language we hear every day from the tea party movement, from the Republicans in general,” said Joseph Glemaud, 65, a Pembroke Pines retiree. “When they call us all kinds of stupid names without talking about the issues — it’s a total disregard for people.”
Ella Kearse, 60, is adamant voters will show up at the polls in favor of Sink during the next 12 days.
“Listen, the Democrats are going to show up,” she said. “When they talk about the polls, they never go into the black communities.”
Kearse said too many issues in this election are important to blacks and senior citizens — she is both — and a discussion about the issues should be enough to get voters to the polls.
For her part, Nicole Rutsky said she knows plenty of registered Democrats who are planning to sit this election out. Until about 10 a.m. Thursday, she was one of them.
“The candidates don’t draw me in and make me want to vote for them,” she said before the rally. “I want to hear something she has to say — I guess if you feel like she’s being truthful about making a change in Florida.”
Rutsky said she, like her mother and sister, have had a hard time seeing past the negative ads from both campaigns.
But, even with her conversion, she’s not hopeful about the prospects of going home and convincing her mother and sister to vote for Sink. Maybe if they had been there in person, it would have been different, she said.
Therein lies the power of a personal appearance from Clinton. Aside from energizing the party faithful to volunteer in phone banks and knock on doors, Clinton has the power to convince crowds that the stimulus bill wasn’t just necessary but effective.
What’s more, he can convince people like Rutsky that a candidate they know little about is the right person for Florida — and make them feel as though they already know that deep in their hearts.
“Let’s level up, folks: if this were a normal election, and this guy was running against her, with all of the problems he’s got, and no experience, she’d be 25 points ahead, and I’d be off helping somebody else,” he said. “What happened? Look, we all know what the truth is.”
Sink, meanwhile, is still trying to introduce herself to crowds, and frame the narrative of who she is. She isn’t a hardened, unethical businesswoman like Republican candidate Rick Scott wants to make her out to be, she said.
She talks about moving to Florida 26 years ago for a new career opportunity, and finding her true home.
She discusses her upbringing on a family farm in North Carolina, where she says her parents instilled values like hard work and making do with what you have.
“They taught me that accountability and responsibility for your own actions is critical,” she said. “And most importantly they taught me that when our neighbor is in need, you reach out a helping hand and help that neighbor.”
Sink wrapped up her remarks with a line she debuted recently, asking Floridians to go on a journey with her – a figurative outstretched hand to the voters who haven’t made up their minds, who Sink critically needs in order to get an edge over Naples businessman Scott on election day.
“I’m reaching out my hand to all Floridians to say this: If you want a stronger economy, a better job, and maybe a chance to start a small business, will you come with me?” she asked.
From the audience there was a resounding “yes.” That “yes” is going to have to get a lot louder, and grow by a few hundred thousand between Thursday and Nov. 2 for Sink to take the governor’s mansion.
Sink continued to North Florida on Thursday afternoon to kick off the last leg of her tour of Florida, visiting Pensacola on Thursday night before traveling east across the central part of North Florida. By Saturday, she will be headed toward Tampa.
OTHER RECENT DAILY NEWS COVERAGE OF THE GOVERNOR'S RACE
- STAFF PHOTOS: Photos of the 2010 Elections
- READER PHOTOS: Submit your Election 2010 photos
- VIDEOS: Videos about the 2010 Elections
- PRECINCTS: An interactive map of early voting sites in Collier and Lee counties
- CANDIDATE INTERVIEWS: Editorial Board video interviews with Florida candidates
- ENDORSEMENTS: Daily News endorsements for the 2010 Elections
- TWITTER: Latest tweets from Florida candidates
- SPECIAL SECTION: For candidate video interviews, map of polling places, photos and more stories about the 2010 elections.