President Obama’s secret weapon in Florida: Rick Scott

May 30, 2011


Six months ago, in the wake of the wipe-out midterm elections, moderate Florida Sen. Bill Nelson privately vented that President Barack Obama, weighed down by his health reform effort and muddled messaging, was “toxic” for Democrats back home.

Yet Obama’s approval rating has surged from 42 percent to 51 percent in the last month, and Nelson is now openly embracing the president, pronouncing himself dutifully “fired up” at an Obama-hosted Miami fundraiser this spring.

What’s changed? The killing of Osama bin Laden, slow but demonstrable improvements to the foreclosure-ravaged economy, a cooling of tea party passions and the toxic nature of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Medicare overhaul in a state with one of the largest populations over the age of 55 in the nation — all are factors in Obama’s turnaround.

But Obama’s biggest asset in a critical swing state he won by a mere 2.8-percentage-point margin in 2008 might be Rick Scott, the wildly unpopular Republican governor Democrats are casting as Lex Luthor to Obama’s Clark Kent.

Democrats say Scott, a stern, angular, unvarnished former health insurance executive, is an easily caricatured embodiment of conservative excess and tea party overreach. And he will likely be Obama’s prime target in Florida, no matter who the Republican presidential nominee is, as well as the best hope of countering the threat posed by the possible selection of popular freshman Sen. Marco Rubio as the GOP nominee’s vice presidential running mate.

“Obviously, it gets a lot tougher for us if they put someone like Rubio on the ticket,” said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party. “But Rick Scott is the standard-bearer for Republicans in Florida. … He wants to be President Obama’s foil in Florida, and we’re more than happy to let him be just that.”

Happy isn’t an emotion beleaguered Florida Democrats have experienced much lately, but Scott is bucking them up. A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed his approval rating at 29 percent and his disapproval rating at 57 percent — by far the lowest approval rating of any governor in the country.

“The double whammy for any Republican running in Florida is Rick Scott and Medicare,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the south Florida congresswoman who was chosen for her new job, in part, to be Obama’s most visible surrogate in the nation’s biggest swing state.

“Rick Scott is at 29 percent — 29 percent!” she added.
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