TAMPA — Former state Sen. Nan Rich brought her dark-horse campaign for governor to the University of Tampa on Tuesday, trumpeting the endorsement of former lieutenant governor and congressman Buddy MacKay, a Democratic elder statesman.
Rich distantly trails former Gov. Charlie Crist in fundraising and name recognition in the Democratic primary contest to run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott but says she’s the real Democrat in the race.
She got some backing on that claim Tuesday from MacKay.
“Nan Rich is the one true Democrat in the race for governor,” MacKay said in a statement released by the Rich campaign. MacKay said he and Rich “worked together on many issues to improve the lives of children and families” and called her “an effective advocate for public schools, seniors, and social justice issues.”
MacKay, now retired in Marion County, was a state legislator, U.S. House member, lieutenant governor under the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, and briefly governor after Chiles’ 1998 death. He lost the 1998 governor’s race to Jeb Bush. He’s one of the last remaining members of the group of progressive Democrats, including Chiles, Reubin Askew and Bob Graham, who dominated Florida politics during the 1970s and 1980s.
Rich’s event at UT illustrated her problem in the Democratic primary. While she was appearing before a group of about two dozen students and others in UT’s historic Plant Hall, Crist was doing national television interviews as part of a tour to promote his book, “The Party’s Over,” about how he switched from Republican to Democrat because, he says, the GOP has been taken over by conservative extremists.
While Crist and his independent political committee, Charlie Crist for Florida, had raised more than $4 million by the end of 2013, Rich’s campaign had raised $269,148.
Crist also has refused her demand for debates.
“I can understand why Gov. Crist doesn’t want to debate me,” she told the crowd at UT on Tuesday. “I’m known as something of a policy wonk” while Crist is not.
Rich said she has been known throughout her career as a supporter of abortion rights for women, rights for same-sex couples, public education funding and other Democratic touchstones that Crist hasn’t always backed.
She said she believes she can win the race because, “I’m developing an incredibly strong grass-roots infrastructure throughout the state.”
Rich has at least some backers among the liberal and feminist sections of the Democratic Party -- one attendee at UT was Susan Smith of Tampa, president of the party’s Progressive Caucus, a staunch Rich backer and Crist opponent.