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Bousquet: Gov. Rick Scott begins to reconnect with voters

Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a telephone town hall for voters in Hillsborough County, the second of its kind in his 2014 campaign.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a telephone town hall for voters in Hillsborough County, the second of its kind in his 2014 campaign.

He's raising boatloads of campaign money.

He's traveling the state constantly.

And Gov. Rick Scott is spending time reaching out to rank-and-file voters as he chases a second term.

Following a campaign fundraiser last Tuesday at Island Way Grill in Clearwater, Scott held a telephone town hall for voters in Hillsborough County. It was set up by the Republican Party of Florida, whose help Scott belatedly received in 2010, after the GOP establishment spent millions on TV ads that damaged Scott's image as they sought to help another Republican candidate, Bill McCollum.

Most people on the line were Republicans, but party spokeswoman Susan Hepworth said some were independents or Democrats who may be "somewhat inclined" to vote for Scott next year.

"This is the beginning of a year-long methodical effort of informing, targeting and communicating, unfiltered, with the voters who will make up the majority who will keep Rick Scott in office," Hepworth said.

The event was the second of its kind in Scott's 2014 campaign (the first was in Marion County). By coincidence, a Tampa Bay Times staff member was among the hundreds of voters invited to listen.

For an hour, Scott took calls from voters on a wide variety of topics ranging from the outsourcing of American jobs to debit cards for teachers.

The forum was a long version of Scott's talking points: the economy is improving, schools are getting better and Florida is a great place to live and work. He cited his support for port expansion and eagerness to visit schools.

"Alvin" complained to Scott that federal tax laws reward U.S. businesses for moving jobs overseas. Scott said he had "a very legitimate point."

"Salvatore's" question sounded scripted. He asked if Scott is trying to recruit jobs in other states or countries (the crux of Scott's agenda).

"I'm recruiting every day," Scott said.

"Eric" asked where Scott sees the greatest opportunities for revenue growth. Scott said the answer is to promote tourism more aggressively, enhance seaports and boost the real estate climate.

He spoke of balancing his first budget after $4 billion in cuts but didn't mention that balancing the budget is a constitutional requirement for him and the Legislature.

"Claudia," a teacher, wanted Scott to clarify his offer of tax-free debit cards to help teachers offset classroom expenses. (Many Florida school districts opted out of the program and said the cards are not available on a timely basis.)

"We appreciate the support we're seeing from you now," she told the governor.

Scott stressed his support for a teacher pay raise, said he and his wife get to schools as often as they can and asked Claudia to call his office and invite him to her school.

"My job is to hear from you," Scott said.

It's doubtful that a single telephone town hall will change many people's minds about Gov. Scott.

The larger point is that Scott and the Republicans are busy synthesizing their campaign message well in advance of the 2014 vote.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Bousquet: Gov. Rick Scott begins to reconnect with voters 08/26/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 26, 2013 9:26pm]
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