HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Jeb Bush is lending his political star power to embattled Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is locked in a tight race for re-election in the nation's largest swing-voting state.
Speaking at a metals factory in this South Florida farming community, the former Florida governor and potential White House hopeful on Friday credited Scott with the state's economic recovery, saying the incumbent Republican had created a "field of dreams" for Floridians looking to prosper after the recession. He also criticized Scott's likely Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, as a craven opportunist.
Bush said Crist, a former Republican governor who switched parties in 2012, "woke up each and every day, as he does today, focused on his ambitions rather than having a servant's heart."
For Scott, the stop infused energy into a campaign that has sometimes struggled to connect with voters. Seven years after leaving office, Bush remains one of the most popular politicians in Florida and a revered figure among many Republican voters, who will be critical to Scott's chances in November.
Crist was also campaigning on Friday in Miami. The former Republican-turned-Democrat has been criticizing Scott's education cuts, which the GOP incumbent enacted during his first year in office.
For Bush, the tour of B&K Installations was as much an affirmation of his accomplishments as governor as an endorsement of Scott's.
Speaking to few dozen factory workers and reporters, Bush said that if Scott were re-elected he would "join me, by the way, as the only other Republican governor to have been re-elected in Florida's history." Later, he thanked Scott for building on the sweeping education overhaul that was one of the hallmarks of Bush's administration.
"It is hugely important in a global economy, where the world is shrinking at warp speed, to make sure the next generation can read and write, and calculate math, have a sense of our history," Bush said.
While governor, Bush pushed through an overhaul of Florida's education system that include grading schools from A-to-F based on high-stakes standardized tests. Bush's administration also implemented two private school voucher programs, one to low-income families and the other to special needs children and children with disabilities.
While the former governor said he will make a decision on a White House bid later this year, he seemed to revel in an appearance that had all the trappings of a presidential campaign. At one point, he directed Scott to join him in posing with workers before a bank of cameras.
"I kind of miss getting out on the campaign trail a little bit," Bush beamed, as he prepared to deliver remarks.
Earlier in the week, Bush announced his opposition to a Florida ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana in the state. On Friday, when asked whether the federal government should enforce drug laws in states that have passed medical marijuana programs, Bush said, "I think states ought to have the right to decide these things. I think the federal government's role in our lives is way too overreaching."
Bush told reporters that he was warming up for more campaign appearances to help Republican candidates in the midterm elections. While his schedule remains relatively quiet compared with many of his potential Republican presidential rivals, he's building political capital. He's headlined more than two dozen private fundraisers for GOP candidates, including governors of early voting states Iowa, South Carolina and Nevada, and committees heading toward November.
Associated Press writer Gary Fineout in Tallahassee contributed to this report.
Follow Michael J. Mishak on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mjmishak.