Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist marched down the street in Fort Lauderdale, visited black churches in two counties and stumped with Vice President Joe Biden in a last-minute push Sunday, the final day of early voting in Florida.
Playing to a crowd made up almost solely of blacks at Mount Hermon AME church in Fort Lauderdale, Biden linked Crist, a former Republican governor trying to get his old job back as a Democrat, with President Barack Obama, who remains wildly popular with African-American voters despite plummeting favorability nationwide.
“I have a simple, basic message for you, a message from the president of the U.S. He’s had your back and you got to get his back,” Biden told a few hundred Crist supporters. “The way you get his back is to turn out to vote.”
But to the south of Democrat-rich Broward County, Republican Gov. Rick Scott brought out another political big gun Sunday — former Gov. Jeb Bush, who urged a crowd in Hialeah to keep Crist from moving back into the governor’s mansion.
“Charlie Crist has gotta go,” said Bush, drawing applause and cheers as he was flanked by Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and other GOP leaders.
Both campaigns have pushed to turn out their base supporters in early voting and now are trying to get them to the polls Tuesday. Former President Bill Clinton will campaign Monday night with Crist in Orlando, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Texas Gov. Rick Perry will join Scott for a series of stops in the politically pivotal Interstate 4 corridor.
Biden’s appearance was among several “Souls to the Polls” events geared to black churchgoers held throughout the state Sunday.
“The president has said restoring the middle class is the defining issue of our time. That’s just what’s at stake with this election,” he said.
Biden, who also joined Crist for a rally at Florida International University earlier in the day, contrasted Scott as one of a new breed of tea party-style Republicans who can’t identify with working-class Floridians.
“They think it all trickles down.. They think if we take care of the very, very very wealthy, somehow that’s going to get down to us. In the neighborhood I was raised in that didn’t happen, man. Nothing trickled down except the rain from the roof that you couldn’t repair,” he said. “I don’t think they get it. I don’t think Rick Scott gets it and I don’t think this new Republican Party gets it.”
Biden, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, recalled how Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 1982.
“And guess what? We didn’t count on there would be Rick Scotts left,” Biden said. “I didn’t count on the fact that you’d have a whole slew of Republican governors once again trying to convince us that we should not vote.”
Florida was one of several states that passed restrictive voting laws that critics said were aimed at curbing Democratic turnout prior to the 2012 presidential election. In 2011, Scott signed a law that cut back early voting hours and made it harder for Floridians who moved from one county to another to cast regular ballots. But last year, in response to long lines in mostly Democratic strongholds in 2012, the Legislature — with Scott’s approval — undid most of the restrictions.
Elections supervisors in 12 counties — including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade — took advantage of the option to allow voters to cast their ballots on Sunday, the last day when voters could go to the polls before Tuesday’s election.
Democrats boasted of record turnout in Florida this year in contrast to previous mid-term elections when Democrats typically are outgunned by Republicans.
Democrats have been catching up to Republican in terms of ballots cast since early and absentee voting began last month. As of Sunday, Democrats had cast about 4.2 percent fewer ballots than the GOP, or about 125,000 votes, compared to 275,000, or a 12.7 percent advantage for the GOP in 2010, according to Democratic strategist Steve Schale, a consultant to Crist.
And black voter turnout — considered critical for a Crist win — is double that of four years ago, Schale wrote on his blog Sunday morning.
Two years ago, Obama defeated Republican Mitt Romney by a 71,000-vote margin in Florida. If 6 percent fewer of the 1 million blacks who voted in Florida in 2012 had stayed home, Obama would not have won, Biden said.
“Well it’s the same thing today, guys. Let’s get this straight. We get out the vote, we win. We stay home, we lose. We lose, the community loses,” he said.
But the Scott campaign spent part of the weekend trying to encourage turnout in GOP strongholds, such as Southwest Florida. To help do so, it enlisted high-profile Republicans including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Christie, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, appeared Saturday with Scott in Naples and praised the incumbent’s leadership of Florida, calling him “my friend.”
“He tells you what he believes, he stands firm to work to get it done. You can count on his honesty. you can count on his loyalty. And you can count on the fact that if he asks you for four more years as he’s done, that he will deliver those four years in a way that will make you proud,” said Christie, who has made a series of appearances for Scott during the campaign.
Many Democrats blamed former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s loss to Scott in 2010 on lackluster turnout in Broward County, where more than half of the 1 million registered voters are Democrats, and nearly a quarter of registered voters are black. But County Commissioner Marty Kiar said Sunday that voters — who cast more than 12,000 ballots on Saturday alone — are more enthused this year.
“Our early voting numbers have been huge,” Kiar, a former state representative, said. “People are coming out in droves. … The margin that we’re going to win by in Broward County is what’s going to put Charlie over the top.”
Appearing on stage before Biden and Crist, state Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, who has been leading an intensive get-out-the-vote effort in black neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale, urged supporters to join him and Crist for a march down Sistrunk Boulevard to a nearby early voting site.
“Four years ago we did not turn out like we should,” Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. “Broward County will make the difference this year.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz credited the uptick in turnout to Crist’s campaign, which has 120 workers statewide and has micro-targeted minority voters and women who cast ballots in 2008 and 2012 but stayed home in 2010.
“I have not seen a ground game like this ever in Florida,” Wasserman Schultz, who is also the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, said.