Addressing topics ranging from the economy, the oil spill and even gay adoption, the candidates for Florida governor and a U.S. Senate seat tried to draw distinctions Thursday between them and their opponents.
“I believe Washington has put this country on an unsustainable path, and I’m not prepared to stand by and do nothing,” said Republican senate candidate Marco Rubio. “I saw there was no one else running who could be a check and balance.”
All the major candidates from the race to replace former Sen. Mel Martinez, and all but one of the major gubernatorial candidates appeared at The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota for a town hall before a room full of journalists. The Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors sponsored the event.
Rubio, the presumptive Republican nominee, ran through a list of goals he wanted to accomplish if elected, including simplifying the tax code, foster more responsible federal spending and cutting Social Security and Medicare.
“The two entitlement programs will bankrupt themselves and then bankrupt the country,” he said.
The oil spill was a big topic of conversation and Rubio reiterated his continued support for offshore drilling.
The Republican’s main challenger, Gov. Charlie Crist, arrived at The Ritz-Carlton following an appearance at Mote Marine Laboratory, where the Deepwater Horizon spill was the main topic of discussion.
“I’m deeply concerned about what’s going on in the gulf,” the governor told the journalists. “This is the most significant catastrophe our state has ever faced.”
Crist called BP’s commitment to create a $20 billion fund to help the victims of the spill “a good start.”
“They have to pay for everything,” he said.
Crist, now running as an independent, had been trailing Rubio by double digits when he was still in the Republican primary race. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Crist leading Rubio from four to seven percentage points, depending on the Democrat in the race. However, Crist said it wasn’t his poor showing in the Republican primary polls that caused him to leave the party.
“The Republican Party turned into a party where you have to pass a purity test,” he said. “I think there’s a better way.”
Two Democratic candidates also laid out their plans if elected.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-District 17, spent much of his time speaking about getting the federal government to stop spending money it doesn’t have.
“We have to start looking at where we’re going to get the money to pay for federal programs,” he said. “We must get the deficit under control.”
He said one way to help corral costs is to bring troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jeff Greene, a self-made billionaire businessman, made much of his opponents being career politicians and how the U.S. Senate needs someone who has experience running a business and creating jobs and will reject special-interest money.
“The corruption in Washington is insidious, and it disgusts me,” he said.
But Greene did not specify exactly how he would fight special-interest influence and help reduce the national debt.
Referring to a bipartisan report President Barack Obama commissioned on the debt, Greene said he would review it as soon as he was elected.
On the gubernatorial side, Florida’s CFO Alex Sink said she believed she could halt partisanship in Tallahassee.
“What we’re seeing (from citizens) is anger about partisanship,” she said.
Sink believes the way to end gridlock between the two parties is by finding common interests in any issue. She also pledged to attract more insurance companies to the state to help the property insurance market.
State Attorney General Bill McCollum also addressed property insurance.
“I don’t think Florida has any business being in the insurance business,” he said. “But as a reality, we need to for now.”
As governor, he pledged he would go to the nation’s capital and demand help from Florida’s senators.
“We need to bring in more insurers — no doubt about it,” he said.
McCollum’s Republican primary challenger, Rick Scott, who actually is leading in the most recent polls, was the only candidate not to attend the town hall. Scott, a political first-timer who was CEO of the Columbia/HCA health care company, was in Tallahassee filing his election paperwork, but that did not stop McCollum from going after his opponent.
“He ran Columbia/HCA during the largest Medicare fraud,” McCollum said. “Either he knew about it or wasn’t competent. Do you want someone like that running the state?”
The gubernatorial race’s main independent candidate is quite familiar with Tallahassee. Lawton “Bud” Chiles III is the son of former Governor Lawton Chiles Jr.
“I represent something completely different for Florida,” he said, calling the current political system one of “so much money, power and control” from special interests.
Chiles said the partisanship in the state capital is “not fixing schools, not adding one job or getting anyone health care.”
He pledged to find more jobs for Floridians, saying too much money is spent imprisoning minor offenders and would be better spent creating jobs.
The latest Quinnipiac poll shows Scott with a 13 percentage point lead over McCollum in the Republican primary. Sink trails both Republicans by as much as nine percentage points, and Chiles is as much as 22 percentage points behind the Republicans.
Contact Robin Roy at email@example.com.
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