TAMPA ญญ— Aiming his governor's campaign at young voters who helped elect Barack Obama, Charlie Crist campaigned with Vice President Joe Biden at a South Florida college Monday while Biden's wife, Jill Biden, appeared with Crist running mate Annette Taddeo at the University of South Florida.
During a discussion with USF students about college affordability, Taddeo bashed Gov. Rick Scott for cuts to the state's Bright Futures Scholarship program — but also said the program should be based on financial need. That's a move Crist hasn't advocated.
Currently, Bright Futures, the state's largest college financial aid program, is based solely on academic achievement plus a community service component. Whether the program should weigh financial need has been a point of contention since it was created in 1997.
“I don't know that it's part of the Crist campaign but I will tell you that we've discussed it,” Taddeo told reporters after her appearance with Biden. “I think it should be based on need.”
The campaign later said Taddeo meant to refer to “more need-based financial aid in general, not specifically ... Bright Futures.”
Crist's Fair Shot Florida plan “includes plans for additional need-based financial aid,” said Crist spokesman Brendan Gilfillan. “Both Charlie and Annette believe the number one focus needs to be on restoring Bright Futures scholarships to the level they were at in his administration.”
Taddeo also denied reports that Crist is wary of campaigning with President Barack Obama, and said Michelle Obama will return to Florida for Crist at the end of this week.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week, based on an unnamed source, Crist is reluctant to campaign with Obama, fearing it would shift the focus of the race to national issues. Scott has sought to link Crist to Obama, whose job approval ratings are hitting record lows.
Taddeo said she doesn't think it's been decided whether Obama will campaign with Crist, but said she has no concerns about it.
“I don't think Charlie has distanced himself at all and I think it's important to note that he has said so many times,” Taddeo said. “I think at the end of the day we have a president who is doing everything he can to work across the aisle and the Republican Party has gone to the extreme tea party side.”
Biden and Taddeo met with about 20 USF students for thre discussion of discuss college affordability, then visited campaign phone banks in Miami and at Florida Atlantic University.
Joe Biden and Crist, meanwhile, attended rallies at a synagogue in the Century Village condo complex in Boca Raton, and at Broward College in Coconut Creek. Both communities are in Broward County, the state's most heavily Democratic.
Jill Biden, an English professor at a community college near Washington, told the students that “as a lifelong educator,” the issue of college affordability is “very close to my heart.”
“I've seen first hand ... how there are many barriers to success,” she she said. Her students, “are juggling a lot ... They're going to school, many of them have one job or two jobs.”
“We need to make sure there is an affordable path for everybody to get a college education.”
Taddeo reminded the students that Crist has proposed a loan forgiveness program for students in science, technology, engineering and math fields, and a student loan financing authority to help students re-finance student debt.
She repeated the Crist campaign's accusation that the number of students Bright Futures serves has decreased by some 50,000.
“We've cut Bright Futures scholarships in Florida in half. About the size of this university is the number of kids who longer get Bright Futures scholarships,” she said.
Later, Taddeo added, “Let's review the eligibility based on need. That was the way it was originally meant to be.”
Taddeo said she lives in a well-to-do area of Miami, and “I don't like it when one of my neighbor's kids who's very well off is getting one of those Bright Futures scholarships. We also need to look at that. But we need to restore the funding first and make sure that those 50,000 kids are back in school.”
In fact, Bright Futures was never intended to take financial need into consideration, said former state Sen. Paula Dockery, who was in the Legislature when it was enacted. “It was always intended to be open to every Florida student regardless of need.”
In the 2012-13 fiscal year, the latest year for which figures are available from the state Department of Education, Florida spent $312 million in Bright Futures. Meanwhile, it spend about $201 million on need-based programs.
The Scott campaign responded Monday that Crist “wants to take away the scholarships from Florida's hardest-working and highest-achieving students.”