Posted at 10:50 AM, Oct 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-31 10:50:00-04

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) --  Republican candidates have long suffered from the "gender gap" between male and female voters, something Democrats have tried to exploit in recent years with discussion of a GOP "war on women."

In fact, a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, has a 14-point lead over Republican Gov. Rick Scott among women. Scott, by contrast, has a 10-point lead among men.

The gap comes despite a sustained effort by the Republican Party of Florida and Scott's campaign to highlight $90,000 in contributions that Crist received from strip-club owners. The party got some new ammunition over the weekend when Crist appeared on "Facing South Florida with Jim DeFede" on CBS4 in Miami. DeFede asked Crist why he hadn't returned the money.

"Because we got it from a management company," Crist responded matter-of-factly.

But DeFede asked Crist whether he thought it would be appropriate to return the money now that it's clear where the money came from.

"No, I don't," Crist said simply.

The RPOF quickly issued an ad slamming Crist for the contributions and featuring his exchange with DeFede.

And in a press release from the Scott campaign, three advocates said that "the problem isn?t the money. It is what it represents. Strip clubs devalue women and are often a place of prostitution, drug use and even human trafficking."

The statement was attributed to Niki Cross, the founder of S.T.A.A.R. Ministry; Trudy Novicki, the executive director of Kristi House; and Frances Lee, the president of Safe and Free Florida.

Within a few hours, the Florida Democratic Party released an ad blasting Scott for his 2012 veto of additional funding for rape-crisis centers.

"These centers are a place for women who have nowhere else to turn, and Rick Scott turned his back on every single one of them," the ad says in its withering closing line.

Scott suggested at the time that the additional funding was unneeded, and drew criticism from even some Republicans. But the governor's campaign also said funding for rape-crisis centers under Scott has increased on the whole, going from $2.9 million in 2011 to $5.2 million in the current budget year.

Asked about the back-and-forth this week over the strip-club contributions and rape-crisis centers, Scott highlighted those budget numbers and then pivoted back to Crist.

"Why would he accept money from strip-club owners and not give it back?" Scott said. "It doesn't make sense to me."


Need more evidence of a contrast between Republican Congressman Steve Southerland and his Democratic challenger, Gwen Graham, in their hard-fought race in North Florida? Consider these two characters: Allen West and Jimmy Buffett.

Southerland, a two-term incumbent, will welcome the conservative firebrand West to a Saturday rally in Panama City.

West is known, in part, for his relentless criticism of President Barack Obama, who is highly unpopular in conservative parts of Southerland's Congressional District 2. West, like Southerland, was swept into the U.S. House in 2010 in the tea-party wave, though West lost in 2012 after his South Florida district was redrawn.

Graham, meanwhile, introduced the laid-back musician Buffett during a rally Wednesday at The Moon, a Tallahassee club. Graham then sat with her family to enjoy the music. The standing-room-only crowd included a high percentage of men in Hawaiian shirts --- - and while they cheered happily for Graham and her father, former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, they roared for Buffett, known for songs such as "Why Don't We Get Drunk."

Buffett dedicated his hit love song, "Come Monday," to Adele Graham, Bob's wife and the candidate's mother. The musician is a longtime ally of Bob Graham, with whom he co-founded the Save the Manatee Club in 1981.

Julia Gill Woodward, manager of the Graham campaign, said that while Southerland tacked to the political center earlier in the campaign, he's now moving to the right in his quest for votes.

"Between getting the endorsement of Tea Party Express this week and having Allen West come to his last campaign rally, we're really seeing where (Southerland's) true political leanings lie, which is the very far right," she said.

Southerland campaign manager Luke Strickland, however, said the congressman has been more consistent than his opponent.

"Unlike Gwen Graham, who has changed her positions on major issues repeatedly, Steve is running the same campaign he's always run," Strickland said in an email. "He's rallying support from voters across the political spectrum because that's the only way you remain the first Republican elected to this seat since 1882."

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "Jeb Bush disses his own son's 2016 speculation." --- Talking Points Memo (@TPM), as the chatter continues about whether former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will run for president.