- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Charlie Crist, a Democratic hopeful in the Florida governor’s race, says he believes politics robbed him of a chance to speak in front of a group of business leaders in Orlando last week.

He returned Wednesday to talk to a different group, but he delivered the same unrelenting attacks on Republican Gov. Rick Scott he’d planned to deliver to the Florida Council of 100. He questioned Scott’s job creation record, education policies and accused him of “trying to bully me by waving his $100 million checkbook.”

Crist was scheduled to speak in front of the council last week at an event that also featured an address by Scott.

But Crist, a former governor and former Republican, said he was informed two days beforehand that he was “disinvited.” He later received an apology from the group’s chairman, who informed him the invitation was rescinded in an effort not to make the event political. The council said in a written statement last week that it didn’t want its policy meetings to become a political event, and apologized for any inconvenience it caused Crist.

Scott made his scheduled speech to the group.

A message seeking comment from Council of 100 chairman Steven Halverson on Wednesday was not immediately returned.

The Council of 100 is a nonpartisan group, but has a large Republican membership. Crist spoke Wednesday to another nonpartisan group - the central Florida Tiger Bay Club.

“It’s good to be back in central Florida and nice to give the speech I wanted to give in front of the Council of 100,” Crist said. “The speech I just gave is the truth about Florida. It’s about a brighter future. It’s about having someone who cares. It’s about you and average Floridians all over this state. And I don’t think (Scott) likes hearing that.”

The Tiger Bay Club audience had several questions for Crist, including his plans for higher education and his thoughts about a recent gun bill that died in the Florida Senate, but would have expanded concealed weapon rights.

He also was asked how he would respond to critics who see him as a political opportunist, and whether he would even be seeking another term as governor if he had been elected to the Senate or become a Republican vice presidential candidate.

Crist ran as an independent during his 2010 failed Senate bid and officially changed his party affiliation to Democrat two years later.

“Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you haven’t seen what I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” Crist said. “There’s going to be skeptics that don’t believe you - and that’s OK. You don’t have to. This is America, you’re allowed to have free thought.

“But I can tell you generally from my soul that I couldn’t be happier today to be a Florida Democrat.”

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/khightower .


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