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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Two years in, Rick Scott's biggest challenge is himself



rrickscott.jpgRick Scott casts himself as a problem solver, but after two years as governor of Florida, his biggest challenge remains unsolved. Himself. Midway through a four-year term, a time when governors traditionally take stock of their highs and lows, Scott remains a polarizing figure, a leader who's still awkwardly learning the ropes.

Once the toast of the tea party, Scott now must work to expand his political base as he seeks a new term in 2014. Slow to grasp the state's shifting political dynamics, he has made course corrections on issues such as immigration, education, health care and early voting.

Sued often over his policies, Scott has been cast by Democrats as a coldhearted, payroll-slashing "Pink Slip Rick," ridiculed on cable TV for insulting the king of Spain, and parodied for pushing drug-testing of state workers. Aasif Mandvi of Jon Stewart's Daily Show once tried to goad Scott into giving a urine sample on live TV.

"You only get one chance to make a first impression," said Republican strategist-lobbyist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich. "When you get on the wrong side of the Jon Stewarts of the world, it's a long way back. People formed an opinion early and haven't seen a reason to change it."

But signs of improvement under Scott are evident. Florida's unemployment rate has dropped 3 percentage points with an infusion of new jobs, state debt is at its lowest level in decades, population growth has recovered and the revenue outlook is brightening after years of multibillion dollar shortfalls.

"We're heading in the right direction," Scott said in a year-end interview with the Times/Herald. "We've just got to keep it up every day."

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[Last modified: Sunday, January 6, 2013 12:41am]


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