The Campaign Spot

Is Rick Scott Quietly Assembling a Solid Governing Record?

Today’s Morning Jolt was sent off to the editors a bit late, but hopefully worth the wait. A key section turns our eyes to the warmer climes of Florida . . . 

Great Scott! . . . or at Least Pretty Good Scott!

So this poll result, from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, sounds pretty ominous for Florida governor Rick Scott, a Republican, showing him trailing, 41 percent to former governor Charlie Crist’s 43 percent . . . until you recall the last PPP poll:

What was a 12 point lead for Charlie Crist over incumbent Rick Scott in September at 50/38 is now just a 2 point advantage at 43/41.

The movement since the fall has come largely as a result of Republican voters rallying around Scott and continuing to decline in their affection for Crist. Scott now leads by 66 points with the GOP base at 80/14, compared to only a 44 point advantage on previous poll at 65/21. That shift with Republicans accounts for almost the entire 10 point movement in Scott’s direction over the last few months.

Perhaps the late September was a bit of an outlier; that was the eve of the government shutdown that dragged down Republican polls across the country. (Ask Ken Cuccinelli if you doubt that a Washington shutdown can influence voter opinions about a governor’s race.) So is this a genuine comeback for Scott, or is the race settling in to what it was always likely to be — a close race between two flawed candidates?

It’s easy to understand a Floridian not loving Rick Scott. He initially supported the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, but the GOP-dominated state legislature strongly opposed the proposal, and now he’s kind of quiet about the idea. Sure, he’s not exactly a whirling dervish of raw political charisma. Sure, everybody says he looks like he should be cast as Lex Luthor in the Superman movie.

But these past four years haven’t been that bad for Florida. By some indicators, they’ve been pretty darn good. When Scott took office in January 2011, the unemployment rate was 12.4 percent; today it’s 6.4 percent. The state has gone from more than a million unemployed to just under 600,000. Several tort-reform bills are now signed into law. The growth in state spending has slowed dramatically, now in line with the rate of inflation and population growth. State-government employees now kick in more for their pension costs, and the state government workforce has been reduced by more than 7 percent, almost 10,000 positions. Scott signed several school-choice bills into law.

There are governors who would shut down a bridge access lane for a record like that, or hock a Rolex.

But I can’t quite understand why any voter in Florida would be in love with Charlie Crist — partially because you’ll never love Charlie Crist the way Charlie Crist does. And I really can’t understand why any Florida Democrats would be itching to elect the guy whom they tried to beat in statewide races in 2000, 2002, and 2006, and in his “independent” bid for Senate in 2010. Is the ‘D’ after a candidate’s name really magic? Can it make you forget everything you couldn’t stand about the guy for the past decade?

Betsy Woodruff read Crist’s autobiography/campaign memoir so you wouldn’t have to:

A great anecdote in the middle of the book recounts his attendance at a Q&A session between governors and the president. After watching Obama get grilled by other Republican governors, Crist comes to the president’s defense:

“I’ve listened to my colleagues give you a bunch of garbage” — I kind of spat that word out — “about the stimulus. . . . It is not the way we ought to be treating you. We ought to be treating each other as we’re told in the Bible — ‘do unto others.’”

The scene in its entirety is much lengthier, but you get the idea. Charlie Crist is the guy at the panel who raises his hand to ask a question and then blabs into the mic for five minutes instead. And Valerie Jarrett, who listens to the exchange, is deeply moved:

“That’s exactly what he needed to hear,” she said. “That’s exactly what we all need to hear.” As Valerie spoke, I could see tears were running down her cheeks. “Thank you for saying that,” she said.

Yeah. I’m sure that’s exactly how it happened.

Charlie Crist does have a passionate, uncompromising belief and a deep-rooted principle. The problem is that his passionate, uncompromising belief is the a deep-rooted principle that he should be governor. Everything else is negotiable.

UPDATE: Some charts on the size of Florida’s state-government workforce, year by year:

If the print is too small, the overall state government workforce has shrunk from 168,654 in 2009 to 161,392 in 2013; a few categories, such as state’s attorneys and public defenders, have increased, while the career-service employees were reduced by about 6,000. The Florida state legislature employs about 150 fewer workers than in 2009.

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