TALLAHASSEE -- Someone is conspicuously absent from the campaign brochures produced by Republican candidates in Florida this summer:
Gov. Rick Scott.
Hobbled by weak poll numbers, awkward on the stump and still somewhat estranged from the party establishment that shunned him in 2010, Scott is invisible on the campaign trail across Florida.
He also has steadfastly avoided taking sides in party primaries to a greater extent than either of his two predecessors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.
Colorful images of Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio can be seen everywhere in GOP circles. But candidates sometimes appear to go out of their way to avoid showing Scott’s picture.
In the hotly contested Republican primary for a Tampa Bay Senate seat, Rep. Jim Frishe hands out brochures featuring pictures of him with three stalwarts of the GOP: Bush, Rubio and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. But not Scott.
In the GOP primary for a Jacksonville Senate seat, Rep. Mike Weinstein’s flyer prominently features him with a smiling Rubio. A much smaller photo shows Weinstein, one of Scott’s first supporters, standing between Scott and Bush.
In a competitive South Florida Senate race, Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff’s Facebook profile picture is her smiling with Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. In another snapshot, Bogdanoff poses with Attorney General Pam Bondi. Not seen: a photo of Scott.
A flyer that promotes Chris Nocco for Pasco County sheriff shows seven leading Republicans who support him. Scott’s face is nowhere to be found, even though he appointed Nocco sheriff last year.
“Campaign flyers keep coming out, and not one mentions the governor,” said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the seven Republicans in Nocco’s brochure. “It’s very different.”
The explanation is simple, Fasano said: Campaign flyers are assembled with great care and based on polling data. With Scott’s poll numbers still upside down, Republicans prefer to keep their distance from him, relying instead on endorsement power from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Scott is keeping his distance, too. He has not campaigned with presidential candidate Mitt Romney or U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, who has a huge lead in polls in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
“I’m not planning to get involved,” Scott said. “Let the primaries work. I’ll be supportive of the Republican candidates after the primaries.”
Scott’s avoidance of primary politics strikes some Republicans as perfectly logical. He ran for governor in 2010 against the party establishment, did not seek endorsements and spent $73 million of his own money.
“I doubt seriously that he feels much obligation to anybody,” said Tom Slade, a former Florida GOP chairman who was statewide co-chairman of Scott’s 2010 effort. “I don’t think Rick Scott knows how to be a politician. And when you’ve got that much money, you don’t need endorsements.”
Until now, it has been common practice for candidates to use photos of themselves with the governor as a means of flaunting their friendliness with the titular head of their party.
The endorsement of a governor is usually highly coveted, but Scott’s may be devalued because of polls showing that Floridians feel ambivalent about him after 18 months in office.