TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott's running mate on the Republican ticket for governor is expected to be state Rep. Jennifer Carroll, a U.S. Navy veteran and mother of three who, if elected, would be Florida's first African-American lieutenant governor.
Scott will unveil his pick today in a campaign fly-around beginning in Jacksonville, a major hub of Republican voters near Carroll's home in Fleming Island.
In choosing Carroll, Scott, himself a Navy veteran, would get a woman with a distinctive personal story who could neutralize the gender appeal of his Democratic opponent, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink:
• In a state where one in every seven voters is black — and nearly all of those are Democrats — Carroll is an African-American Republican.
• As a native of Trinidad, Carroll is an immigrant who could help soften Scott's hard-line image on an issue that cuts both ways in a state with a large immigrant population.
• She packs a celebrity punch: Her son, Nolan II, is a rookie cornerback and kick returner for the Miami Dolphins, drafted out of the University of Maryland.
"She's an immigrant and she worked her way up and she did everything through hard work. That's very similar to Rick's background. There's a lot of similarities between the two of them," said Jen Baker, Scott's campaign spokeswoman.
Carroll, 51, made Gov. Charlie Crist's short list of possible running mates in 2006. She was also among those listed as possible successors to Mel Martinez, who resigned his U.S. Senate seat last year.
Scott's camp is aggressive in challenging what it considers off-base speculation on political blogs. When blogs named Carroll as his pick Wednesday, the campaign raised no objection.
Lieutenant governors in Florida share one common trait: obscurity. The office did not exist before 1968, and it is unique in that no job description for it exists in state law.
Strategists agree that the selection of a running mate is largely a media fixation that matters little to rank-and-file voters, unless the choice backfires.
"The first rule of a lieutenant governor candidate is to not get in trouble," said GOP strategist and lobbyist J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich. "As a candidate for governor your choice of a lieutenant governor does little for you, but this one is intriguing."
Leslie Dougher, county GOP chairwoman in Carroll's home of Clay County, praised the choice as "far-reaching."
"It would be a great mesh," Dougher said. "Mr. Scott is from South Florida and Jennifer is from North Florida."
Sink's running mate is Rod Smith, 60, a former state senator and elected state attorney from Alachua County who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006.
"I don't have time to speculate, really," Sink said in Miami Wednesday. "I'm just waiting to see what his announcement is."
Carroll moved to Florida in 1986. She and her husband, Nolan, have three children.
She became the first black Republican woman elected to the Legislature in a special election in 2003.
She retired after 20 years in the Navy, where she rose to the rank of lieutenant commander aviation maintenance officer.
She has a bachelor's degree from the University of New Mexico and a master's degree in business administration from Saint Leo University in Pasco County.
Her official legislative biography notes that she is a lifelong member of both the NAACP and the National Rifle Association.
Her record is not free of blemishes, however.
Six years ago, after news reports said that she listed a degree from an online "diploma mill," Kensington University in California, she dropped the reference from her official resume.
"This causes me great concern," Carroll told the Florida Times-Union in 2004. "It's a lot of time, effort and money poured into a university I thought was a viable program."
Last spring, Carroll filed a bill regulating certain electronic sweepstakes games. The Times-Union reported that Carroll confirmed that her public relations firm, 3 N. and J.C. Corp., represented Allied Veterans of the World Inc., a veterans' group that sought to legalize the slot-like machines.
Carroll quickly withdrew the bill (HB 1185) and said a staff member filed the legislation without her approval.
Carroll does not have a distinguished record as a lawmaker but has compiled a solidly pro-business voting record and was unchallenged in a bid for a fourth term this fall.
At a campaign stop in Jacksonville on Tuesday, Scott told WOKV radio he had "pretty much" made up his mind but would not stoke speculation about his choice.
"This person's going to do a wonderful job," Scott said. "Whoever it's going to be, you guys will all be proud of."
Carroll would not be the first African-American woman to run for the state's No. 2 post
In 1978, Claude Kirk, a former Republican governor seeking a comeback as a Democrat, chose Mary Singleton as his running mate, but the Kirk-Singleton ticket fared poorly.
Times/Herald staff writer John Frank and Miami Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7023.
Correction: Jennifer Carroll was the first black Republican woman elected to the Legislature. An earlier version of this story was incorrect.