- Associated Press - Monday, April 14, 2014

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) - Delivering an opening salvo in his campaign to return to office, former Gov. Charlie Crist heaped blistering criticism Monday on his successor, a preview of the attack Gov. Rick Scott faces from his likely opponent.

Addressing a crowd of hundreds at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, Crist gave a relentless indictment of nearly every aspect of Scott’s leadership, portraying him as an opponent to education and the environment and a man out of touch with average Floridians.

Gov. Scott has led like this: embrace the ideological fringe, take care of his friends, bully his opponents, hide from the public and the press and run from tough issues,” Crist said. “He keeps running because the truth means little to Rick Scott because he doesn’t have a record to run on, because he knows Floridians don’t support him and that his priorities are wrong.”

Scott sent Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to rebut Crist, who was long a Republican but now is a Democrat. Crist gave a glimpse of his sometimes disarming friendliness, rising from his seat to applaud Lopez-Cantera when he was introduced, praising him in his speech, then interrupting reporters’ interviews with the lieutenant governor to greet him with a handshake and a wide smile.

The former governor’s arrival before a gaggle of reporters came as Lopez-Cantera was in the midst of denouncing Crist’s speech as filled with mistruths and him as a politician who would stake out any position necessary to get elected. Crist declined to respond to a question about Lopez-Cantera’s comments about his speech’s honesty.

“He’s just gonna get to debate the lieutenant governor candidate,” Crist said. “Give me Scott.”

After an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate as a Republican, and then an independent, Crist is now considered the front-runner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.

Lopez-Cantera said: “I feel like I’m watching a bad political movie. Charlie has become the unpleasant stereotype of a politician willing to say anything and do anything to further ambitions.”

In his 23-minute speech, Crist reached back to familiar jabs at Scott, repeatedly mentioning his wealth and questions about his business past, and going as far to suggest his race against the governor was a battle between good and evil.

“There’s an old quote, ‘All that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing,’” he said.

Crist attempted to portray himself as an everyday guy who has “lived paycheck to paycheck” and still picks up his own dry cleaning, even as he has held high-profile jobs for years and is married to a multi-millionaire. He earned more applause, though, when he stepped back from his attacks on Scott to offer a litany of plans for the state.

“He calls for civility, yet his entire speech was attacking … and insulting Gov. Scott,” Lopez-Cantera said. “It’s a lot of empty rhetoric and I’ve known Charlie for almost 20 years and I’ve come to expect that from him.”

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