Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott doesn’t need to hang James Carville’s famous sign (“the economy, stupid”) to know what’s on peoples’ minds this election season. Voters’ questions on the campaign trail are telling enough.
“If there’s ten questions, the first ten are, ‘How are you going to help me make sure I get a job?’” Scott said.
With newly released July figures showing an uptick in state unemployment to 11.5 percent — the fifth-highest figure in the nation — Floridians are looking for a way out. Scott told Battle ’10 in an interview that it’s just the kind of leadership he can provide.
“What people want, is they want somebody that they can believe in, that has done it before, that knows what it’s like,” Scott said. “You know, you look at my background, I know what it’s like to live in public housing. I know what it’s like that my family had no money to buy anything. I know what it’s like to get Christmas from the firemen.”
A businessman, entrepreneur, and health-care executive, Scott said he never considered entering politics until he organized opposition to the threat of a government health-care takeover under President Obama.
“Every government-run health care system overpromises, runs out of money, and rations care. I didn’t want that to happen to Americans, so I organized a group — the website is cprights.org,” Scott said. “We did a documentary on the U.K. system, the Canadian system. Then we did ads all across the country saying ‘This is what ought to happen.’”
The activism piqued his interest in being an elected official.
“We killed the public option, and we almost won the whole bill, but what happened is, you could see we didn’t elect principled-enough politicians,” Scott said. “So at the end of that debate in March I said that I’m going to run for office.”
He jumped into the gubernatorial race in April and rocketed into the lead based on a flurry of self-funded ads and solid conservative rhetoric.
Scott holds his private-sector career and rags-to-riches story up as proof of his willingness and ability to fix the economy.
“I lived the American Dream,” Scott said. “The dream is that in this country — you know, what I grew up believing — that you could do anything. You didn’t have to have money, you didn’t have to have connections, and you could build any business you want, take any career you want. And I’m scared to death that that dream’s not there anymore.”
The answer, Scott said, is his “7-7-7” plan to create 700,000 jobs over the next seven years through seven steps, most of which call for reducing the size and scope of the state.
“What’s ruining that dream,” Scott said, “is government regulation, government taxes, government uncertainty, government deficits, and politicians that are owned by special interests.”
That final jab — and others like it — is directed at Scott’s opponent, Florida attorney general Bill McCollum, whose campaign and associated 527 organization have received donations from groups such as U.S. Sugar and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
For his part, McCollum has hammered Scott about the $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud levied against Columbia/HCA, the health-care company Scott led.
More recently, the McCollum camp has pushed Scott to release information from a civil deposition he took part in six days before the announcement of his candidacy.
Scott dismissed McCollum’s statements as a campaign tactic when asked about his philosophy on privacy in the public sphere and whether, for example, a sitting politician should release information if he or she is deposed.
“I think it all depends on what the issue is. I think if it’s something that’s relevant to their decision-making process, sure,” Scott said. “But if it’s something that has nothing to do, and it’s really just brought up by somebody in a campaign, that’s totally different.”
Exacerbated by a tight race and fickle polls, both sides have escalated the charges, turning the primary into a bitterly contested battle. But if he wins the Republican nomination, Scott said he doesn’t foresee a problem burying the hatchet and rebuilding the GOP base to oppose Democrat Alex Sink.
“My opponent this fall believes in bigger government, is supporting Obamacare, is supporting President Obama and all of his initiatives to move the country in the wrong direction,” Scott said. “The Republican party will rally around my principles of limited government, business background, fiscal responsibility — all these things.”
Scott has poured more than $25 million of his own money into his campaign and, if it’s necessary in the general election, is willing to continue to do so.
“I will make sure, through my investment and through raising funds from others that believe in the principles that I believe in, that we’ll have all the necessary funds to run a very successful campaign against the Democrat nominee,” Scott said.
Until then, Scott continues to barnstorm the state in advance of Tuesday’s primary, spreading his message and drawing energy from the voters he meets along the way.
“This campaign, for me, is the most inspiring time,” Scott said, “because you can see the needs out here, and you can see the desire and the hunger for somebody that will come along and change the direction of this state.”
— Kyle O. Peterson is Florida election reporter for NRO’s Battle ’10 blog.