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Florida business community may back Scott in 2014, if only by default

They may hold their noses while doing so, but business leaders are leaning toward backing Florida Gov. Rick Scott in his 2014 re-election bid.

Polls suggest Scott can be beaten on a broad set of issues. Yet on the topic of the Florida economy and jobs, where the business community's heart lies, Scott's message remains hyper-focused. The Sunshine State is a business-friendly, low-tax state. Join us.

That's a grossly superficial sales pitch given the woes of low-wage work and rising costs confronting Floridians. Yet business leaders increasingly say it still helps to have a governor so willing to pick up the phone and personally urge some distant executive to expand in Florida.

Besides, what's the alternative to Scott? More than a year before the election, Democratic contenders appear timid or cagey.

Business leaders view Alex Sink as one of their own even after she lost a close governor's race to Scott in 2010. But questions fester whether she has the fire to tackle another race so burdened with heavy fundraising demands.

Business leaders appreciate the charismatic style of Charlie Crist — especially given Scott's social awkwardness. But they worry over Crist's baggage. He flip-flopped from Republican to Democrat. And his decision when a first-term governor to seek a Senate seat over another term in Tallahassee bugs past backers. Asked in a radio interview this week what economic priority he would pursue if governor, Crist volunteered "clean energy." That was a big promise when he ran for governor in 2006. Yet under Gov. Crist, few clean energy advances emerged.

As for the aging Sen. Bill Nelson, leaders wonder why he would subject himself to the rigors of a governor's race. Former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston already is campaigning for governor, but is not on Central Florida's radar.

Then there is the money. Scott spent $73 million of his own wealth in 2010 and still has millions more, if needed, this time. As an incumbent, Scott now has what he once lacked: a state Republican Party delivering tens of millions in campaign funds.

His anticipated war chest for 2014: up to $100 million.

To many sharp business people, Scott's economic platform seems as flimsy as paper.

His obsession on Florida's jobless rate — sky high when he took office and now stuck at 7.1 percent, still lower than the national 7.3 jobless rate — ignores a complex reality. Most recently created jobs are low-wage, and Floridians' standard of living has suffered more than the nation's. Some argue the jobless rate is actually higher because more Floridians have stopped looking for work.

Florida "is still 515,100 jobs below its peak during the boom," says the Legislature's recently released State of Florida Long-Range Financial Outlook. "Simple rehiring, while necessary, will not be sufficient to trigger a robust recovery," the report warns.

At this point, none of these arguments matter. No one with the political ear of Floridians has stepped up to contest Scott or pierce the veneer of his "jobs, jobs jobs" pitch.

In the business community, Scott wins little applause. But it looks like he may still get plenty of support — by default.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

Florida business community may back Scott in 2014, if only by default

09/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 10:46pm]
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