TAMPA -- It’s way too early to count out Rick Scott for a second term.
His poll numbers are stubbornly bleak — only one in three voters say he deserves a second term — and despite plenty of coaching, he still displays the natural charm and warmth of an automaton.
But 77 weeks before Election Day, Democrats lack a consensus candidate, Scott is methodically raising money for his re-election and every day the political landscape improves for him as Florida’s economy perks up.
“It’s working,” is the governor’s mantra, and whether credit belongs to Scott’s policies, the White House or inevitable economic cycles, Florida’s economy is rebounding under Scott’s leadership.
“What Gov. Scott has this time that he didn’t have before is a record, and it’s a record of enormous success. Anybody that wants to be challenger should take a look at that record,” said Republican consultant Susie Wiles of Jacksonville, who managed Scott’s 2010 campaign. “If somebody thinks that Rick Scott won’t have time, energy and resources to be re-elected, they’re making an error in judgment.”
The political rookie ran for governor promising to get Florida back to work, and since he took office the state has added nearly 300,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since 2008, 7.5 percent.
Four years ago, Scott was a controversial stranger to Florida voters and a virtual pariah to the GOP establishment that overwhelmingly backed then-Attorney General Bill McCollum. Even finding operatives willing to work for him, let alone raising money, was a struggle.
Today, Scott is the GOP establishment, and rather than having to create a campaign apparatus from square one, he has the GOP party machine behind him.
His campaign operation is unlikely to ramp up any time soon, because it doesn’t need to. He can court voters far more effectively as a governor criss-crossing the state and doing his job than as a candidate.
This week, Scott barnstormed major TV markets across Florida, holding pep rallies to tout $480 million in teacher pay raised passes in the latest state budget while casting himself as a champion of public schools.
“Thank you, Gov. Scott!!” dozens of enthusiastic Alexander Elementary School fourth and fifth graders shouted Friday morning in Tampa.
It was the kind of TV footage campaign operatives dream of.
Given his poll numbers, Scott remains one of the most vulnerable governors in the country facing re-election in 2014. A March Quinnipiac University poll found that potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor, would crush Scott among registered voters 50 percent to 34 percent. Only 32 percent of voters said Scott, 60, deserves re-election.
So far, public polls suggest, voters are giving Scott little credit for the improving jobs picture in Florida. Democrats see a prime opportunity to take back the Governor’s Mansion, and plenty of Republicans outside Scott’s inner circle agree.
“This is the same chattering class that had Bill McCollum and then Alex Sink measuring drapes for the Governor’s Mansion. They both learned the hard way about underestimating Rick Scott, but apparently the Tallahassee establishment just never learns its lesson,” said Tony Fabrizio, Scott’s chief political adviser. “We look forward to a campaign against either of the Tallahassee establishment favorites — Crist or Sink — as their dismal record of high unemployment, sinking home prices and a collapsing economy while leading the state will serve as a sharp contrast to the dramatic turnaround the state has undergone under Gov. Scott.”