TALLAHASSEE -- As Gov. Rick Scott stood before a group of Realtors in Clearwater on Tuesday, he used the spike in federal flood insurance rates to do what has become his weekly mantra: blame President Barack Obama.
Nevermind that it was congressional inaction that allowed a key provision in the federal flood insurance act to take effect — despite misgivings about the unintended consequences by most of its supporters. Scott accused the president of threatening to cripple Florida’s real estate recovery by failing to stop rates from rising.
In seeking reelection in 2014, Florida’s Republican governor, whose favorable rating hovers below 40 percent in most polls, has found a favorite, equally vulnerable target in the nation’s Democratic president.
With Obama only slightly more popular than Florida’s governor, Scott loses nothing by bashing the president. And he’s got plenty to gain by revving up his Republican base while winning over independents unhappy with the president.
Scott will likely square off next year against Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor who is now a Democrat. Part of his strategy will be the same one employed by Republican Marco Rubio when he defeated Crist, then an independent, in the 2010 U.S. Senate race. He must link Crist to Obama every chance he gets.
In the last month, Scott has blamed Obama for federal budget cuts to Florida’s National Guard troops. He’s complained about the president’s failures in launching the Affordable Care Act. He’s accused the administration of failing to repair the aging dike that threatens Lake Okeechobee. And he has chastised the president for failing to lead as the government headed toward a shutdown.
“The buck stops with the President. We need leadership now,” Scott said in a Tweet to his 40,000 followers on Wednesday.
It’s an attack campaign without an opponent as Obama serves as a convenient straw-man to Crist and Democrat Nan Rich, a former state senator also running for governor. Crist is expected to announce later this month that he will return to the arena to challenge Scott for his old job.
Scott’s Obama-bashing strategy can work in Florida, pollsters say, because the longer Washington remains mired in partisan dysfunction, the more the president’s numbers decline — especially among independent voters who often dictate races in Florida.
A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted two weeks ago found that 49 percent of the public disapproves of the job Obama is doing and 43 percent approves, the lowest measure since he was reelected in 2012. Independents are increasingly skeptical about the president’s healthcare law with only one in three supporting it.
“Scott is doing exactly what you would expect of him,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. “He’s the captain of the red team in the state of Florida; it doesn’t hurt him to be criticizing the head of the blue team nationally.”
Democratic pollster Dave Beattie agrees.
“He won the election in 2010 running against Obama and linking Alex Sink to Obama. It worked,” said Beattie, who worked for Scott’s 2010 gubernatorial opponent, Alex Sink. “The weakness is it makes him more partisan” — something moderates and independents dislike.