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Crist Says He Can't 'Take My Eye Off The Ball'

CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami/NSF) - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist tried to draw sharp contrasts Thursday with Republican Gov. Rick Scott on issues such as the environment, education and openness --- while also seeking to defuse questions about why he won't appear with Democratic opponent Nan Rich.

Crist, speaking to a news executives and editors gathered in Coral Gables, said he has to stay focused on beating Scott in November, rather than debating or appearing with the underdog Rich, a former Senate minority leader. Rich has repeatedly called for a debate with Crist, an issue the Scott campaign has tried to stoke.

"I am running against $100 million,'' Crist said, referring to potential campaign spending aimed at re-electing Scott. "I really don't have the luxury to take my eye off the ball."

Rich is scheduled to speak Friday morning during the convention of the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors at The Biltmore Hotel. Scott declined an invitation to appear, with spokesman Greg Blair saying in an email that the Scott campaign "will consider debate and forum invitations in the fall after the Democrats choose their nominee."

If he hopes to beat Scott, Crist, a former Republican governor, will have to turn out core Democratic voters. As he answered questions Thursday from a media panel, Crist focused on issues such as increasing teacher pay, protecting the environment, protecting voting rights and expanding Medicaid --- all issues popular with the party base.

Crist also said after the event that he thinks the state should take another look at the "stand your ground" self-defense law, citing concerns that people who instigate altercations could use the controversial law in defense. The law says people can use deadly force and do not have a duty to retreat if they think it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm.

"That (law) definitely needs to be reviewed, in my opinion … reviewed and fixed,'' Crist said.

Even before Crist appeared at the event, the Republican Party of Florida sent out a "response" email blasting him. The response, a quote from Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, pointed in part to Scott creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, after heavy job losses during the Crist administration.

"I worked with both Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, and the difference couldn't be clearer,'' Flores said. "Charlie might be a smooth politician, but Rick Scott is the better governor."

But Crist, who was elected in 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2010, defended his shepherding of the state amid the global economic crisis, which led to jobs losses. He said, for example, he protected 20,000 teachers' jobs by accepting federal stimulus money. Scott has been critical of the stimulus money.

"Which of the 20,000 teachers would he have chosen to lay off?" Crist asked.

Crist also tried to portray himself as more transparent than Scott and played to his audience by vowing to meet with newspaper editorial boards. That was a dig at Scott, who did not meet with the boards before winning the 2010 gubernatorial election.

This report is by Jim Saunders with The News Service of Florida.



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