Friday, June 22, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott invisible in GOP primary campaigns

TALLAHASSEE — Someone is conspicuously absent from the campaign brochures produced by Republican candidates in Florida this summer:

Gov. Rick Scott.

Hobbled by weak poll numbers, awkward on the stump and still somewhat estranged from the party establishment that shunned him in 2010, Scott is invisible on the campaign trail across Florida.

He also has steadfastly avoided taking sides in party primaries to a greater extent than either of his two predecessors, Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.

Colorful images of Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio can be seen everywhere in GOP circles. But candidates sometimes appear to go out of their way to avoid showing Scott's picture.

In the hotly contested Republican primary for a Tampa Bay Senate seat, Rep. Jim Frishe hands out brochures featuring pictures of him with three stalwarts of the GOP: Bush, Rubio and U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young. But not Scott.

In the GOP primary for a Jacksonville Senate seat, Rep. Mike Weinstein's flier prominently features him with a smiling Rubio. A much smaller photo shows Weinstein, one of Scott's first supporters, standing between Scott and Bush.

A flier that promotes Chris Nocco for Pasco County sheriff shows seven leading Republicans who support him. Scott's face is nowhere to be found, even though he appointed Nocco sheriff last year.

"Campaign fliers keep coming out, and not one mentions the governor," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the seven Republicans in Nocco's brochure. "It's very different."

The explanation is simple, Fasano said: Campaign fliers are assembled with great care and based on polling data. With Scott's poll numbers still upside down, Republicans prefer to keep their distance from him, relying instead on endorsement power from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam or Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Scott is keeping his distance, too. He has not campaigned with presidential candidate Mitt Romney or U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, who has a huge lead in polls in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

"I'm not planning to get involved," Scott said. "Let the primaries work. I'll be supportive of the Republican candidates after the primaries."

Scott's avoidance of primary politics strikes some Republicans as perfectly logical. He ran for governor in 2010 against the party establishment, did not seek endorsements and spent $73 million of his own money.

"I doubt seriously that he feels much obligation to anybody," said Tom Slade, a former Florida GOP chairman who was statewide co-chairman of Scott's 2010 effort. "I don't think Rick Scott knows how to be a politician. And when you've got that much money, you don't need endorsements."

Until now, it has been common practice for candidates to use photos of themselves with the governor as a means of flaunting their friendliness with the titular head of their party.

The endorsement of a governor is usually highly coveted, but Scott's may be devalued because of polls showing that Floridians feel ambivalent about him after 18 months in office.

A Times/Herald/Bay News 9 Mason-Dixon survey released last week showed 40 percent approved of Scott's job performance and 51 percent disapproved.

Any Republican who must face a Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 general election also is aware that Scott is less popular with independents and reviled by Democrats, according to the statewide poll of 800 registered voters taken the week of July 9.

Some of Scott's earliest supporters hoped in vain to receive an endorsement from him.

One early supporter of Scott in 2010 was Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, who's running for a Senate seat in eastern Hillsborough County as an underdog against former Senate President Tom Lee, who's backed by Senate Republican leaders.

Burgin's first TV ad depicts her with Rubio, not the governor.

Weinstein, a civic leader and former prosecutor from Jacksonville, walked door-to-door with Scott in 2010, introduced him to party activists and defended Scott against a Republican TV ad that accused him of committing fraud as a hospital executive.

"I was very unhappy with the establishment implying that Rick had done something almost criminal," Weinstein said in recalling the ad, in which a former U.S. attorney mocked Scott for saying he "didn't know" about Medicare fraud at his company.

Now, Weinstein needs help in a difficult race for a Jacksonville-area Senate seat, but Scott isn't returning the favor.

Weinstein must watch helplessly as Jeb Bush appears in TV spots praising opponent Aaron Bean as someone "I counted on, and so can you."

Despite Scott's overall middling poll numbers, two-thirds of Republicans statewide approved of his performance in the Mason-Dixon poll.

In the GOP stronghold of Jacksonville, Weinstein said conservatives admire Scott, and his support might assure victory, but he said he didn't ask for an endorsement because it would have "put him on the spot."

"This is a very conservative district," Weinstein said. "Rick Scott's endorsement would be a game-changer."

Instead, Weinstein's brochure features in bold red letters, "Endorsed by Pam Bondi."

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

Former Tampa police corporal qualifies as Democrat to run for Hillsborough sheriff

TAMPA — A Democrat has officially joined the race for Hillsborough County sheriff.Gary Pruitt, a 50-year-old former Tampa police corporal who now works as director of security at a local mall, qualified Friday to challenge Republican Sheriff Chad Chr...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

Carlton: Could anything be more partisan than going nonpartisan?

So Hillsborough County commissioners — most of them, anyway — want voters to consider dropping political parties from certain elections, making those races nonpartisan instead.This would mean when you go to vote in those elections, you won’t know if ...
Published: 06/22/18
Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

Hotel renovator approved by council to restore New Port Richey’s Hacienda Hotel

NEW PORT RICHEY — A seasoned historic hotel renovator and operator is going to take a crack at getting New Port Richey’s city-owned Hacienda Hotel back into action. New Port Richey City Council members, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, u...
Published: 06/20/18
Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

Pope Francis criticizes Trump’s family-separation policy on migrants, says ‘populism is not the solution’

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis stepped into a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, criticizing the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexican border and saying that "populism" and "creating psychosis" are not t...
Published: 06/20/18
Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Raburn out in State House 57 race. Now who’s in?

Well, that didn’t last long.U.S. Army veteran Michael Sean McCoy filed to run as the Republican candidate in the State House, District 57 race just hours after incumbent State Rep. Jake Raburn, R-Lithia, announced he was stepping down.McCoy, who live...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

Romano: A Tampa Bay ‘superstar’ caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s border policy

At this moment, she is Tampa Bay’s most influential export. A smart, accomplished and powerful attorney making life-altering decisions on an international stage.But what of tomorrow? And the day after?When the story of President Donald Trump’s border...
Published: 06/19/18
‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

‘Don’t leave me, Mom’: Detainee tells of separation from son

SEATTLE — The call came at mealtime — an anonymous threat demanding $5,000 or her son’s life. So Blanca Orantes-Lopez, her 8-year-old boy and his father packed up and left the Pacific surfing town of Puerto La Libertad in El Salvador and headed for t...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

Trump defiant as border crisis escalates, prepares to lobby House GOP on immigration bills

WASHINGTON - As he prepared to visit Capitol Hill, President Donald Trump on Tuesday continued to insist that Congress produce comprehensive immigration legislation, while anxious Republicans explored a narrower fix to the administration policy of se...
Published: 06/19/18
Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

Trump, GOP to huddle as outrage builds over border policy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calls are mounting on Capitol Hill for the Trump administration to end the separation of families at the southern border ahead of a visit from President Donald Trump to discuss legislation.Trump’s meeting late Tuesday afternoon with...
Published: 06/19/18
Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another detention center for immigrant children planned for Houston

Another facility intended for detaining undocumented children is reportedly in the works for Houston as the number of children separated from their parents at the border continues to swell.Southwest Key Programs, the same contractor that operates the...
Published: 06/19/18