- Associated Press - Thursday, July 10, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Republican Gov. Rick Scott is a multimillionaire and flies in a private jet, yet his campaign decided to criticize Democratic challenger Charlie Crist as an elitist for wearing a Rolex watch.

Democrats pointed out the hypocrisy, and the ensuing media coverage reminded voters that Scott’s net worth dwarfed Crist’s. Several more of Scott’s attacks backfired, and the campaign made other gaffes, including alienating one of its biggest donors.

Polls show the two candidates are roughly tied ahead of November’s general election. But the missteps have been noticed by the people Scott will need in a tight re-election: The activists and the donors who help propel a campaign.

“There’s a lot of curious things going on,” said Tony DiMatteo, former chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party.


Scott filled his campaign team and top state party posts with non-Floridians brought in to help his re-election. Some wonder if the lack of institutional knowledge of the state has hurt their media strategy.

“Their people have never reached out to the local people. They’re isolated,” DiMatteo said. “They have their own way of doing things. It’s like hitting your head against the wall - they’re going to do what they want to do and you let them go.”

Among the notable misfires by Scott’s office and his campaign:

- Scott bashed Crist for saying he backs in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants when he previously opposed it. Scott himself also flip-flopped on the issue.

- Scott repeatedly said Crist is bad for education. The state Republican Party tried proving the point with a list of bills Crist vetoed, including a college tuition increase and cuts for public schools - actions Crist took to help education.

- Scott relentlessly attacked Crist for supporting President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. But when staff from the governor’s office set up a round table to discuss it in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County, the gathered seniors praised the plan.

Greg Blair, a spokesman for Scott’s campaign, did not dispute it had made errors, but said recent polls show Scott no longer trails Crist.

“Every campaign makes mistakes,” Blair said, pointing out that Crist’s once strong lead in the polls had withered.

And yes, Crist has made mistakes, such as announcing in Miami’s Little Havana that he’d like to make a campaign fact-finding trip to Cuba. After much backlash, Crist’s campaign said he wouldn’t visit communist-ruled island before the election.

Still, Scott’s campaign gaffes have received more attention.

Earlier this year, top donor Mike Fernandez complained in emails leaked to the media that campaign staffers mocked Mexican accents - which the campaign denied. Curt Anderson, a Washington D.C.-based Scott adviser, responded by insulting Fernandez in an interview with Politico. Fernandez had personally contributed $1.4 million to the political committee formed to re-elect Scott and raised millions more.

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