The tweet from Florida Republican Party Chairman Lenny Curry summed up the GOP challenge as President Obama travels to the port of Jacksonville on Thursday to tout the economy and underscore the plight of the middle class.
“@BarackObama in Jax on TH, but it’s @FLGovScott who helped middle class w/JAXPORT $,” Curry wrote.
In the last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Legislature steered $38 million in state transportation money to help deepen a crucial port channel needed for large cargo ships. It is a loan to keep the project moving forward until the federal government completes the lengthy authorization process and starts writing the checks, port officials said.
But the theme — steering credit for successes in the state’s economy to Gov. Rick Scott, while blaming the president for holding it back — is going to be a recurring one for Curry as Scott seeks re-election in the next year.
But economists say that while Obama and Scott have played a role in the economic recovery, it is the Federal Reserve that deserves most of the credit. The federal monetary policy that has kept interests rates low has revved up Florida’s stagnant housing market, provided a lift to the construction industry and helped to reduce unemployment, said two promiment state economists.
Consumers are more optimistic in Florida than they have been since the onset of the recession, said Chris McCarty, an economist at the University of Florida, and the reason is primarily the rise in housing prices. But can Scott or Obama take credit for the uptick in housing prices?
“Most people would argue the answer is no,’’ he said. “Credit Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve.”
“The dramatic stance of monetary policy, with interest rates cut to zero and $1 trillion in mortgage backed securities backed by the feds, have certainly played a role,’’ said Sean Snaith, an economist with the University of Central Florida. The governor can claim credit, but he doesn’t have the tools that the Federal Reserve has at its disposal, he said, and even the president’s influence is muted.
Those facts are not likely to change the rhetoric in the coming election year, however, as skirmishes over who gets credit or blame for the pocketbook pressures of average Americans make up the campaign narrative.
The Republican Party launched the first missive on Thursday, buying a full-page ad in the Jacksonville Times Union repeating the claim that under Scott’s leadership the state’s unemployment has dropped and jobs have been added — and taking a shot at the president.
“We hope you enjoy Jacksonville, Mr. President,’’ the ad reads. “A lot of folks who visit here and enjoy Florida decide to stay for the jobs and opportunities your policies have denied so much of the country.’’ It also supplies a list of tax cuts and regulation rollbacks under the governor.
When Obama took office in January 2009, Florida’s unemployment was at 8.7 percent, nearly identical to where it is today. It rose to 11.4 percent in January 2010, had dropped to 10.9 percent by the time Rick Scott took office in January 2011 and is now at a four-year low of 7.1 percent, below the national average.
Just as the incumbent president got credit for an improving economy in 2012, Scott is likely to benefit from any uptick under his watch in 2014, said Quinnipiac pollster Peter A. Brown and Democratic pollster Dave Beattie.