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Gov. Scott refuses to slow down his war on Obama and Washington

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott was about to dismantle a nearly $3 billion bullet train deal that state and local officials had spent a decade assembling.

But before he mentioned anything about "high-speed rail," Scott blasted President Barack Obama's budget proposal for "higher taxes" and creating the "largest budget deficit in our nation's history."

It was par for the course from Scott, who has taken his war on the federal government, and Obama in particular, from the campaign trail straight into the state's most powerful political office.

And nearly four months after Election Day, Scott acknowledged he's still in campaign mode.

"I'm still used to running for office," he joked during a tour of the Florida Lottery on Thursday.

"I believe in the sovereignty of the great state of Florida," Scott said. "We've got to defend the rights of Floridians as citizens of this great state."

But his devotion to the tea party and his continued focus on federal issues — health insurance, unemployment benefits, stimulus spending, immigration and now high-speed rail — has some asking if Scott wants to run for president.

"I wouldn't be shocked to wake up one morning and see he has planned visits to Iowa and New Hampshire," Florida Democratic Party spokesman Eric Jotkoff said.

Scott has denied interest in the White House, saying he wants to serve a second term.

But the signs are piling up.

He beefed up the Washington, D.C., extension of the governor's office by hiring former health care lobbyist Brian McManus, an ally of Scott's Conservatives for Patients' Rights group. Spencer Geissinger, Scott's external affairs director, is considering joining the D.C. office, too.

Frequent appearances on FOX News also feed speculation. Scott on Thursday made his fourth appearance on the network in three weeks, slamming high-speed rail as a "federal boondoggle."

Taking on the federal government can only help Scott in Florida, said Republican consultant Albert Martinez.

"Have you seen anything in the last two years from the federal government to make you believe you should be entering into a $2.4 billion contract with them?" Martinez said.

His opposition to the rail project had less to do with possible presidential aspirations, Martinez said, than it did maintaining credibility with his conservative base.

But it's unclear how well his forceful antigovernment message is playing with the rest of the state.

He's the first modern governor to win office with fewer votes than any other winner on the statewide Republican ticket. Since the election, polls show nearly as many Floridians dislike him as like him; a Quinnipiac survey on Feb. 2 showed that 28 percent of registered voters view the new governor favorably, 24 percent have an unfavorable opinion, and another 45 percent don't know enough about him to say one way or the other.

Scott has shown little interest in extending an olive branch to a list of opponents — teachers, environmentalists and even some fellow Republican lawmakers — that grows by the week.

Sometimes it seems he is more concerned with his competition nationally.

He insists he has the most fiscally conservative budget in the country and constantly says he wants to outperform Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He seemed to enjoy it when FOX hosts compared him to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday.

"Scott is a no-nonsense, hard-hitting, hard-talking governor and he has the business background that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann don't," said Steffen Schmidt, an Iowa State University political science professor and an expert on his state's caucuses.

"He's being talked about in Iowa," Schmidt said.

Scott has taken great pains to maintain his ties to the tea party. He unveiled his budget last week at a tea party event in rural Florida.

While lobbyists complain of not being able to schedule meetings in the governor's office, Scott spent 30 minutes with a pair of Tampa tea party leaders last week who said they called and asked for some of his time.

"Anything is possible," said Amy Kremer, who chairs the Tea Party Express political action committee based in California.

Kremer met Scott in 2009 as part of the health care protests.

"I never expected him to run for governor," she said. "But right now people want results."

In person or in statements, Scott has derisively referred to "ObamaCare," "Obamacrats," "Obama-math" and, on Wednesday, "ObamaRail."

Asked about that vocabulary, Scott said he never actually said "ObamaRail." It was in a press release from his office.

"I didn't use that," Scott said with a smile. "I would have, though."

Michael C. Bender can be reached at mbender@sptimes.com.

Gov. Scott refuses to slow down his war on Obama and Washington 02/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, February 19, 2011 3:08am]
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