Thursday, May 24, 2018
Politics

Romano: Rick Scott will have tougher time second time around

And so it begins again for Rick Scott. This time, a little earlier than the last.

The governor will begin selling himself today in a brand new campaign commercial designed to make him look every bit as human as you or I.

Now you might remember, at this point four years ago, Scott was not yet running for governor. His name recognition was practically nil, and when the first polls arrived in early May, he trailed Bill McCollum by 14 points in the Republican primary.

Turns out, that was easily fixed with an $85 million campaign.

So now you ask yourself today:

Is it really such a big deal that, once again, the mega-rich Scott finds himself lagging behind in the polls in the spring before a fall election?

Um, yeah.

And you better believe Scott knows it.

You see, last time Scott was an unknown candidate trying to create a persona for himself. Millions of dollars in TV ads can do that for a motivated person.

This time, however, Scott is not the mysterious outsider. His low poll numbers are no longer about anonymity, but instead reflect his unpopularity after three years on the job.

Granted, he still has gobs of money. Plus, he's starting earlier and has no primary. So won't a barrage of ads, like the one beginning this week, help his sagging numbers?

Undoubtedly, but with this caveat:

It's a lot harder to sell a calculated image of yourself when people already have formed their own opinions about you.

"In 2010, he was a blank page," said longtime state legislator Paula Dockery, who dropped out of the 2010 Republican primary for governor soon after Scott got in. "He hired a brilliant consultant and pollster in Tony Fabrizio, and they came out very early with a lot of ads that introduced Scott to people. He was defining himself before others could define him.

"Now, he's a known entity and the polls tell you that a lot of people just don't like him. He has a record he's got to run behind, and there's a lot of bad stuff in that record."

Can you just imagine Scott sitting in a darkened room, nervously wringing his hands and wondering how he ended up back here? After all, he's the sitting governor. He's got employment numbers on his side. And his likely opponent, Charlie Crist, is carrying his own set of peculiar baggage.

Yet the polls consistently show Crist with a lead against the incumbent.

A Quinnipiac poll in January had it 46-38 for Crist. A University of Florida poll in February put it at 47-40 for Crist. Even internal GOP polls, reported recently by Times/Herald reporter Marc Caputo, show Crist with favorable numbers across a wide array of demographics.

"Is Charlie Crist the perfect candidate? No," Dockery said. "But he has name recognition and he's going to have enough money to get his message out.

"The only way Rick Scott wins is if he convinces people that Charlie Crist is actually worse than him. And that's going to be a tough sell because people like Charlie Crist and they don't like Rick Scott."

If the numbers get any worse, Dockery suggests it would not be inconceivable for Republican leaders to ask Scott to step aside.

As unlikely as that may be, Scott does not have an easy road ahead. As an unknown candidate, he could talk about fixing Tallahassee's problems. As the guy in the governor's mansion, he will need to defend his own unpopular policies.

A blitz of television ads will help smooth some of the edges. And Scott will not be shy about taking credit for a recovering economy.

But there is one reality that cannot be changed.

This time, you know who Rick Scott is.

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