‘Seven-point-five percent.” When you meet Florida governor Rick Scott, you hear that phrase over and over again. It’s the Sunshine State’s unemployment rate — and why he thinks he’ll win reelection. “You better believe it,” he says, as we chat at a coffee shop in Washington, D.C. “Our state has never been like Texas; we haven’t done enough to promote our success. So I’m teaching everyone in our state to become braggarts.”
Count Scott — a soft-spoken, bald millionaire — as braggart-in-chief. He is unpopular with conservatives, including Republican state legislators, for expanding Florida’s Medicaid program, and his approval rating has slipped to 36 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. But the state’s improving economy could be his saving grace.
Next year, Scott will probably face a tough race, especially since Democrats are on the upswing in Florida. (Barack Obama won the state twice.) Charlie Crist, a Democrat and former Republican governor, is eyeing a run, as is popular Democratic senator Bill Nelson. National Democrats have already pegged Scott as one of their top targets.
To compete, Scott, a technocratic former venture capitalist, is raising a lot of cash. According to the Miami Herald, he’s raking in an average of $50,000 per day, and he raised nearly $5 million in the first three months of this year. His fortune is ready to be deployed, too, though Florida insiders say Scott hasn’t decided whether he’ll once again pour in millions. (In his first campaign, he spent $75 million of his own money.)
He’s also recasting himself. The tea-party fervor that accompanied his 2010 gubernatorial victory has been replaced by a nearly robotic focus on jobs. Gone are the attacks on the Obama administration, and in their place are nonpartisan platitudes and a bevy of statistics that Scott seems to rattle off during every speech and interview. Three hundred thousand new private-sector jobs; an unemployment rate that has dropped more than three percentage points; a $2 billion reduction in state debt — these are the things Scott talks about incessantly.
Scott pushes back against the idea that Medicaid expansion could be his undoing. “It’s not a law I supported, but it’s the logical thing to do, since it’s the law of the land,” he explains. “We don’t have a choice now with all of those taxes. What we have a choice on is: Are we going to take care of the uninsured people in our state? Well, yes, we will, and if the federal government wants to cover more of our people, we ought to do it.”