Rick Scott: The most unpopular politician in Florida?

at 04:30 PM ET, 05/25/2011


There’s bad news for Florida Governor Rick Scott in a new poll . (Gary Coronado - AP)
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott has had a tough first five months in office — to put it kindly.

A new Quinnipiac University poll showed that nearly six in ten people disapproved of the job Scott is doing; among self identified Republicans — allegedly Scott’s base — 37 percent disapproved of how he is handling his business.

Scott’s poll numbers may well make him the least popular Republican governor in the country — or, at the very least, a part of that conversation. So, how did he get so unpopular?

Unlike most newly elected governors, Scott never had a honeymoon period. That’s most likely the result of the in­cred­ibly divisive primary and general election races he won in 2010.

While Democrats were never likely to back Scott — he beat state CFO Alex Sink very narrowly last November — it’s actually the lack of GOP support that has made things more difficult for him.

Because he ran directly against the Republican political establishment in his primary victory over then state Attorney General Bill McCollum, Scott had little to no goodwill among party regulars when he got into office. That meant there were far fewer people willing to stand up for him as he sought to enact a series of controversial proposals during the Florida legislative session.

Scott was also a newcomer to politics, with no positive reputation among voters to fall back on. (He had never run for elected office prior to 2010.) During the final days of the election, he was spending $5 million a week on television ads painting himself in the best possible light. Once the race was over, all that salesmanship disappeared.

Then there’s the budget he’s about to sign, which 54 percent of Q poll respondents said was “unfair” to people like them. In the short-term, Scott’s budget lays off over 4,000 state workers. Even Republican legislators complained that the plan they passed didn’t do enough to boost employment. Economists predict that the budget could actually add to the state's unemployment rate. On the other hand, there have been some signs of improvement in jobs numbers.

Scott’s personal style hasn’t helped matters. For months he avoided reporters, news shows and editorial boards, although he’s made an effort to reach out in recent weeks. His top-down management style upset Republican officials. Scott’s decision to reject stimulus money for a high-speed rail line was especially contentious.

And, to hear some Republicans tell it, his staff hasn’t helped matters either. “His team has done a very poor job of selling” Scott’s plans, said one Republican strategist. “It doesn’t have to do with policy so much as personnel. They came in and they had a very adversarial relationship with a very aggressive Florida press corps. The salesmanship of a difficult product has to be done with a little bit more finesse, instead of with stonewalling.”

Can Scott recover politically? His allies note that made tough decisions to deal with a $4 billion budget gap and balanced the budget without raising taxes, as he promised to do.

“While he is mindful of the concerns from various individuals and interest groups, Governor Scott is confident he’s making the right choices to benefit Florida as a whole,” said Lane Wright, a spokesman for the governor. “Our state's unemployment rate has dropped from 12 percent to 10.8 percent since Governor Scott took office which shows we are on the path to creating 700,000 jobs, but it can’t be done without making tough choices.”

If more new jobs are created, Scott will almost certainly get a boost — but a better economy will also help President Obama in 2012. It remains unclear which politician would get the lion’s share of credit for a Florida economic bounceback.

“I think that as the Florida economy gets better, [Scott’s] numbers will improve,” said Justin Sayfie, a former adviser to Gov. Jeb Bush (R) who now runs the leading news-aggregation site in the state.

Scott, a total political outsider, may ultimately not care about winning a second term — focusing instead on getting as many of his priorities passed as he can. Under that theory, even if he loses in 2014, he will have cut corporate taxes, rolled back regulations, and made a host of other changes that will be hard for Democrats to undo.

But if Scott does want to get re-elected, he is going about it in a very odd way and needs a radical course correction — politically, at least — and fast.

 
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