Gov. Rick Scott this week begins airing his campaign's first Spanish-language TV commercial, an earlier-than-usual Hispanic outreach effort that reflects Florida's changing demographics as well as the depth of the Republican's aggressive $6 million ad blitz .
No other Florida governor has advertised so heavily — especially in Spanish — nearly seven months before his election.
The ad's title and message, "Oportunidad," jibes with two English-language positive spots Scott began running in mid March. It's all about jobs, which have increased on his watch.
"Yo no soy un experto en la política pero yo sé el valor de un trabajo," Scott, looking into the camera, says in the new commercial ("I'm not an expert in politics, but I know how valuable a job is").
The rest of the 30-second ad, voiced-over by a woman, tells Scott's rags-to-riches story.
Of the nearly $5.4 million Scott has spent so far, the governor has run two negative ads that attack Democrat Charlie Crist for his support of Obamacare, described in a misleading way. The negative ads underscore Scott's relatively poor poll numbers compared to Crist.
Scott's supporters point out, however, that he's not just defensively going after Crist. The governor is going on offense by quickly reaching out to the fastest-growing segment of the state's electorate, Hispanics, who account for roughly 14 percent of the voter rolls.
Scott's campaign says the $500,000 Spanish-language television and online ad buy will start Wednesday in four major markets for Spanish media: Miami-Fort Lauderdale, Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fort Myers-Naples and the Orlando area.
Crist and fellow Democrat Nan Rich have said that the positive commercials about Scott's private business record leave out the story of how his former hospital company, Columbia/HCA, paid a record Medicare fraud fine in 1997.
During the GOP primary in 2010, Attorney General Bill McCollum made Columbia/HCA a cornerstone of his campaign against Scott, mentioning it during an August debate on Spanish-language Univision. Scott was also put on defense in that debate because his then-staggering $25 million ad buy didn't include Spanish-language commercials. Scott quickly released a radio and then a TV spot that month.
Compared to Scott's 2010 campaign, this new Spanish-language commercial is far earlier in the campaign cycle. His Democratic rival at the time, Alex Sink, didn't make a significant Spanish-language TV commercial until fall.
During the first general-election debate in 2010, also on Univision, Sink attacked Scott's business record. She also played up Scott's backing of an Arizona-style immigration law, unpopular with a majority of Hispanics. Sink, Democrats and immigrants-rights activists hoped Hispanic voters would flock to the polls outraged that Scott backed legislation that could have led to ethnic profiling.
But the issue of immigration has less salience for many Hispanic voters in Florida compared to other states. The overwhelming numbers of Florida Hispanic voters isn't as affected by immigration laws because they're Cuban (they have special immigration privileges) and Puerto Rican (who are citizens from birth). Public opinion surveys, though, show Hispanics in general often view immigration in a different light when compared to non-Hispanic whites.
Regardless, 2010 exit polls indicated Scott might have won the Hispanic vote against Sink. However, the survey's sample size was too small to say for sure.
What is clear is that, of Florida's Hispanic voters, registered Republicans were the least-likely to stay home in 2010, a midterm election when overall voter turnout is always smaller than during a presidential contest.
The number of Hispanic Republicans who turned out in 2010 compared to 2008 decreased by almost 37 percent, roughly a percentage point more than the decline in all ballots cast overall. Hispanic Democrats decreased by a far greater amount, nearly 55 percent. Independent Hispanics saw the biggest drop, almost 58 percent.
Also, Republican Hispanics in 2010 cast about 121,000 more ballots than Hispanic Democrats, who outnumbered GOP Latinos by 105,446 (or 24 percent). Overall, Florida Hispanics stayed home in far greater proportions than African-Americans or non-Hispanic whites.
Hispanic voter performance is sharply different in presidential races. Democrats and independents vastly increased the numbers of ballots they cast compared to Republicans. Without strong Hispanic support, President Barack Obama likely would have lost the 2012 race in Florida.
"While the Latino vote has been trending more Democratic, the Scott-Crist race brings no guarantees because Crist himself has a checkered partisan past," said Matt Barreto, a University of Washington political science professor and co-founder of Latino Decisions, one of the nation's top Hispanic- research firms.
"The Latino vote is going to be critical in the 2014 election for governor, and there are more uncertainties than ever before," he said.
A key for Scott: Miami-Dade County, home to 57 percent of the state's Hispanic Republicans. Accounting for about 73 percent of the GOP voter rolls in Miami-Dade, the county's Hispanic Republicans are overwhelmingly of Cuban descent, and Scott has made sure to play up Crist's opposition to the embargo against Cuba.
As governor, Scott gave Democrats new political ammunition when his administration conducted a botched non-citizen voter purge with a flawed list that accidentally targeted actual citizens, the overwhelming number of whom were citizens. And Scott last year vetoed a bill that would have allowed some undocumented immigrants to get temporary driver licenses. The bill was largely aimed at so-called "Dreamers," those brought to the United States as children.
Scott these days supports another Dreamer bill that would give them in-state higher-education tuition rates, assuming they graduated from Florida schools where they had been enrolled for years.
The bill, however, hit unexpected trouble in the GOP-led Florida Senate, where two high-ranking Republicans, Senate President Don Gaetz and budget chief Joe Negron, are blocking it. The bill would likely pass if it hit the Senate floor, sponsors say, but a majority of the Republican caucus appears to oppose the legislation, which passed the GOP-led House by large margins.
The controversy gave Crist an opportunity to criticize Scott over his leadership. More broadly, Democrats say, it's a potent reminder to Hispanic voters that Republicans, who have also stalled immigration reform in Congress, aren't looking out for issues important to Latinos.
Crist, when he was a Republican, once opposed a Dreamer-tuition bill.
Scott's newly appointed running mate said Saturday he was still "optimistic" about the bill's chances even though the lawmaking session is scheduled to end May 2. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the state's first Hispanic lieutenant governor, has been working behind the scenes to get the bill across the finish line.
If the legislation passes, there's a good chance it will become part of a future ad in Scott's campaign, which hopes to spend $100 million.
From the standpoint of getting his message out to Hispanics, Scott is on target so far, said Barreto, the Latino Decisions researcher.
"It always helps to be up early in the race, so this is a good first step for Scott," Barreto said. "This is a good first move, but there is a very long way to go."