SARASOTA (CBSMiami/NSF) – A trip to the county that gave Mitt Romney a 7-point edge over President Barack Obama two years ago might seem a strange stop for Democratic gubernatorial wannabe Charlie Crist less than a week before Election Day.
But a Crist campaign appearance Wednesday in Sarasota --- where Republican Gov. Rick Scott earned a clear victory over Democrat Alex Sink four years ago --- highlights Crist's strategy in the final days of the former governor's quest to get his old job back.
"You win Florida by winning a lot of the little fights," Crist consultant Steve Schale, who ran Obama's Florida campaign in 2008, told reporters on a conference call this week.
From now until Tuesday, Crist will shake hands and pose for pictures with black supporters in places such as Sarasota and Daytona Beach and focus on the Democratic stronghold of South Florida, all designed to infuse base voters with enough enthusiasm to get them to the polls.
For months, Crist's team has reached out to loyal Democrats while also focusing on about 350,000 "irregular" voters --- who cast ballots in 2012 and/or 2008 but stayed home in 2010 --- to close the 61,000-plus vote gap that equated to Scott's slim margin of victory over Sink in 2010.
Included in those infrequent voters are African-Americans who tend to show up en masse for presidential elections but are less likely to cast ballots in midterm races like this year, and who were generally unenthusiastic about Sink.
Crist early Wednesday evening entered Sarasota's Bethlehem Baptist Church, the oldest African-American church in the city's Newtown community, to the tune of "Happy Days Are Here Again." A choir clad in black --- accompanied by drums, organ and electric bass --- had primed the 300 Crist supporters, nearly all of them African-Americans, who began arriving half an hour before the doors were supposed to open.
Crist's mention of Obama within 30 seconds of taking the stage drew applause, and he reminded the crowd of something Obama said about 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
"He said, don't boo, vote. Vote. That's what we all have to do. Because as long as we vote, we win. You know what I'm saying. It's true,'' Crist said.
Crist hammered on familiar themes during the 20-minute speech --- raising the minimum wage, expanding Medicaid and putting more money into public schools. And he blasted Scott for relying on campaign contributions from utility companies and property insurers.
"You know how much they've given me? Nothin'. You know how much I owe them? Nothin'. I owe you," he said to cheers.
Crist said he "felt good" six days before the election. "The energy that's out there you can't put in a poll. You can't measure heart. There's numbers and then there's passion. And there's passion here tonight. I feel it," he said.
With the race between Scott and Crist virtually tied, pastor Patrick Miller said his parishioners are engaged in the upcoming election.
"We all understand the gravity of the moment. If we don't have someone in the governor's mansion who reflects our values and the needs of our community, it's going to be a tremendous disservice to us in the long term," Miller told The News Service of Florida before Crist's appearance.
"This election is one in which every vote is going to count,'' he added. "I don't think any candidate can afford to disregard any specific community just because traditionally they've gone in a different direction. You've got to try to get every possible vote you can if you want to win this election."
Both candidates will crisscross the state before Tuesday's election to drum up support from their respective parties' base voters.
Crist will participate in early voting events in Daytona Beach, Orlando and Pasco County on Friday and attend at least part of the Florida A&M University homecoming festivities in Tallahassee on Saturday before heading south.
The Democratic candidate will spend the rest of the weekend and Monday in Democratic vote-rich Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, with another stop in Orlando --- presumably to bolster support among Hispanic voters --- before heading home to St. Petersburg on Election Day.
Scott, meanwhile, will continue spreading his message to Central Florida voters with stops in Oviedo and Orlando on Thursday. Scott will get a boost Friday from conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity in Jacksonville and is slated to stump in The Villages, an affluent retirement community in Central Florida, on Monday. The governor will await the election results in Bonita Springs, a waterfront enclave not far from his Naples home.
With more than 2 million votes cast statewide already, both camps are using math to show why they are better positioned to win.
Registered Republican voters have so far outpaced Democrats in early voting and absentee ballots. But Schale pointed out that Democrats have shrunk almost in half the advantage the GOP held at the same time prior to the election four years ago.
In Duval County, with a heavy concentration of black voters, turnout is up 200 percent over 2010, Schale said.
"I feel like we're in a good place … but we're not resting on our laurels," he said before offering some advice to Democrats. "Go grab a clipboard and go bang on doors."
Crist's folks are also relying on black voters to participate in "Souls to the Polls" events on Sunday after church services. Crist will participate in "Souls to the Polls" events in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, and another is being held in Fort Lauderdale.
This report is by Dara Kam with The News Service Of Florida.
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