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Times poll: Tampa Bay still unsure about Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — Voters on both sides of Tampa Bay remain ambivalent about Gov. Rick Scott after his third year in office, and they are sharply divided over his job performance as he seeks a second term.

In a survey of voters in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, 46 percent graded Scott's overall job performance as good or average, and 44 percent called it not so good or poor.

Only 5 percent said Scott's job performance was excellent, and the remaining 5 percent had no opinion. The results suggest that Scott has a long way to go to convince voters in a crucial bellwether region of Florida that he deserves four more years in office.

The poll for the Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9 and AM 820 News was conducted by phone Dec. 12-17 and has a margin of error of 3.9 percentage points.

The survey results fit a consistent pattern since Scott took office three years ago this week: Despite his highly disciplined focus on creating jobs in a time of steadily improving economic conditions, people are still lukewarm about Florida's 45th governor.

"I'm very happy with Rick Scott. I think he's improved our economy," said Linda Mooney, 65, of Lutz, a Republican retiree who described herself as a conservative with Christian values and who gave Scott an excellent rating."

James Sewell, 62, of St. Petersburg, a registered nurse and a Democrat who has lived in Pinellas since 1982, called Scott a "disaster" for the state.

"I regret that he was ever elected," said Sewell, who faulted Scott for cutting spending on education in 2011 before he increased it the past two years and for rejecting billions of dollars in federal money for a bullet train connecting Tampa and Orlando.

"That was ridiculous. A dumb move," Sewell said.

Overall, 31 percent gave Scott a rating of poor, a higher figure than in any other performance category in the poll, and 37 percent of them were age 55 or older, more than in any other age group.

Older voters are generally more likely to vote in elections such as the one this year, which is an off year without a presidential election, when turnout typically is lower in Florida.

Scott, a Republican, narrowly won election in 2010 as a political outsider who largely financed his campaign with $73 million of his fortune. His likely Democratic rival will be Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor from St. Petersburg who ran unsuccessfully as an independent U.S. Senate candidate in 2010.

Grant Becker, 53, of Tierra Verde, a five-year resident of Pinellas who works for a mobile communications company in Hillsborough, said he's pleased with Scott's performance but gave him a "50-50" chance of winning re-election, in part because Scott is not "charismatic" enough.

"He seems to really be addressing the Florida economy," Becker said, "and he's encouraging businesses to move to Florida, which is a good thing."

Becker specifically cited the corporate expansion plans by Amazon and Hertz in the state, both of which Scott has cited as success stories.

Becker said he appreciated Scott's decision in early 2011 to reject high-speed rail money from Washington. "The long-term operating costs would have killed us," he said.

Chelsea Bonnain, 22, of St. Petersburg, an independent voter who recently graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in molecular biology, said Scott has not done enough to support public schools and teachers.

"I feel like they are very much underpaid," said Bonnain, who was not aware that Scott's single biggest priority in 2013 was a $2,500 pay raise for teachers.

Tampa Bay is the state's largest TV market, where voter turnout generally exceeds the state average and where Scott's likely opponent, Crist, is especially well known as a longtime resident of St. Petersburg.

Voters in Hillsborough had a slightly more positive assessment of Scott than voters in Pinellas (48 percent good or average in Hillsborough, compared with 44 percent good or average in Pinellas). But with the poll's margin of error, it was not statistically significant.

Scott performed slightly better among men than among women, the poll showed.

Even Scott's own polling shows him trailing Crist, but not by much. The Scott campaign recently released a statewide survey of 1,000 likely voters by Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates that showed Crist with a 4 percentage-point lead.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Times poll: Tampa Bay still unsure about Rick Scott 01/01/14 [Last modified: Thursday, January 2, 2014 8:56am]
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