TALLAHASSEE -- Rick Scott casts himself as a problem solver, but after two years as governor of Florida, his biggest challenge remains unsolved: Himself.
Midway through a four-year term, a time when governors traditionally take stock of their highs and lows, Scott remains a polarizing figure, a leader whos still awkwardly learning the ropes.
Once the toast of the tea party, Scott now must work to expand his political base as he seeks a new term in 2014.
Slow to grasp the states shifting political dynamics, he has made course corrections on issues such as immigration, education, healthcare and early voting.
Sued repeatedly over his policies, Scott has been cast by Democrats as a coldhearted, payroll-slashing Pink Slip Rick, ridiculed on cable TV for insulting the king of Spain and parodied for pushing drug-testing of state workers. The Daily Shows Aasif Mandvi once tried to goad Scott into giving a urine sample on TV.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, said Republican strategist-lobbyist J.M. Mac Stipanovich.
When you get on the wrong side of the Jon Stewarts of the world, its a long way back. People formed an opinion early and havent seen a reason to change it.
But signs of improvement under Scott are evident. Floridas unemployment rate has dropped three percentage points with an infusion of new jobs, state debt is at its lowest level in decades, population growth has recovered and the revenue outlook is brightening after years of multibillion-dollar shortfalls.
Were heading in the right direction, Scott said in a year-end interview with the Herald/Times. Weve just got to keep it up every day.
Scott has pushed for more transparency in government, become more accessible and reshuffled his staff. Last week, for the first time, the Republican governor held office hours, appearing in rustic Wauchula, in an effort to connect with real people.
But polls show he remains unpopular with no hint of improvement, a red flag that the publics negative view is unyielding. If Scott is going to improve his standing with Floridians, its now or never.
Back in August of 2010, candidate Rick Scott stood on stage at a St. Augustine park as the brilliant sun reflected off his shiny pate.
You are changing the country! Scott told thousands of tea party activists. The establishment does not control our elections any longer.
In his stump speech, Scott cast government as a job-killer, all of it the work of President Barack Obama.
Everything Obama is doing is killing our jobs, Scott told the cheering crowd.
Scott, who built Columbia/HCA into the nations largest for-profit hospital chain, defeated the GOP establishment that shunned him. Spending more than $73 million of his fortune, he dominated the airwaves with a disciplined message of 700,000 new jobs over seven years.
It worked against two uninspiring rivals Bill McCollum in the Republican primary and Democrat Alex Sink in November in a year when Obamas popularity in Florida was at an all-time low.
In business, thats what you call a hostile takeover, said Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, a Scott admirer.
But it was not without a cost. McCollums and Sinks hard-hitting TV ads, emphasizing record Medicare fraud fines against Scotts company, left a mark, portraying Scott as a crook who couldnt be trusted.