Morning Report: Charlie Crist in pre-campaign mode

If Charlie Crist is not running for governor, he has a lot of explaining to do.

The former Republican governor was swarmed by supporters when he made an appearance Saturday at an educators’ conference in Orlando.

Shouting “Our next governor — right here!” teachers mobbed Crist. They waited in line to get his autograph, shake his hand and take cell phone photos with the would-be candidate.

The Tampa Bay Times described his speech before the Florida Educators Association as “the first Democratic campaign rally of the 2014 gubernatorial race.”

Crist — a former Education Commissioner — talked about improving the state’s schools and preparing students to compete in the global market.

But he also lashed out at incumbent Gov. Rick Scott for his record on education — “four education commissioners in four years, budget cuts, constantly moving targets on accountability.”

Questions about Crist’s political ambitions have dogged the former governor since he upstaged the Republican National Convention last summer by announcing his support for President Obama. In December, he joined the Democratic Party.

In recent weeks, Crist has increased his public appearances, which have included endorsing Democratic challenger Rick Kriseman in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan race for mayor in St. Petersburg. But he also has been coy about answering questions on whether he will run for governor.

Clearly, the mystery that shrouds Crist’s political ambitions seems to intensify the hype around his public appearances.

More this morning:

Gov. Rick Scott rising: If campaign fundraising is the indicator, Florida Gov. Rick Scott already is mounting a strong bid for re-election.

More than $9 million has poured into Scott’s campaign, according to the Florida Times Union.

The GOP bid is not a campaign of small donors either. Scott predicts that he will have $25 million in campaign contributions by early 2014.

So far, Scott’s major contributors include:
• $101,000 from Crystal Lagoons USA, a Chilean pool manufacturer that is expanding to Miami.
• $100,000 from Hartman & Tyner, which owns Mardi Gras Casino and a greyhound race track in Hallandale Beach.
• $50,000 from Harris Rosen, president of Rosen Hotels & Resorts.

Closer to home, a recent fundraising reception at a Belleair home charged $50,000 per couple to have a private dinner with the governor, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The reception was hosted by Dan Doyle, who owns Danka Office Imaging Co., a copier company in the Tampa Bay area.

Amazon flows into Hillsborough County: The much-anticipated development of an Amazon warehouse in Ruskin will move ahead, now that the land has been acquired.

Tampa Bay Business Journal is reporting that USAA Real Estate Co., representing the online retailer, closed on the land purchase last week. Construction is expected to start immediately.

The $200 million project is to develop a distribution center. Up to 1,000 permanent jobs are expected to be created, with temporary jobs added during holiday buying seasons.