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Isaac could be Rick Scott's moment

Gov. Rick Scott holds a news conference Sunday in Tampa about Isaac. The storm gives him a chance to be seen as a leader more than a brief speech could. 

LEAH MILLIS | Times

Gov. Rick Scott holds a news conference Sunday in Tampa about Isaac. The storm gives him a chance to be seen as a leader more than a brief speech could. 

TAMPA — Gov. Rick Scott expected to get just a few minutes in the Republican National Convention spotlight. A seven-minute speech during today's planned opening session, maybe a few appearances at a fundraiser or a reception.

Then Tropical Storm Isaac began churning in the Caribbean and made a turn toward the Florida peninsula.

Almost overnight, the unpopular governor kept somewhat on the fringes of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign was thrust front and center.

While no one will say it, the storm offers Scott an opening to many still-skeptical Floridians to prove his mettle in a crisis. It's Scott, not Romney, the state is seeing on TV twice a day. And it's Scott's voice that is trying to reassure Florida and its thousands of convention guests as Isaac impacts the coastline.

"We do hurricanes well and we do hospitality well," he told CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday morning. "And this week we've got to show both sides."

By now, Scott has almost completely abandoned his plans for the RNC.

On Saturday, Scott announced that his calendar for Sunday and today had been wiped of all convention-related events so he could focus on Isaac. He later extended that through Tuesday and said he will remain away from the festivities as long as Florida is dealing with the storm.

He could fly to tour the Florida Keys as early as today.

"As much as it was an honor to be asked to give a speech at the convention — and I was going to talk about how well our state is doing — my job is to make sure that this is a safe place for everybody that is either a resident or is a visitor of our state," Scott said.

Instead of spending his free moments rubbing elbows with the GOP elite, Scott is calling state lawmakers, small-town mayors and agency heads to make sure they are prepared. He gives them his personal cellphone number and insists they call him if there is anything they need.

On Sunday, Richard Conner, a Red Cross worker from Winston-Salem, N.C., pumped the governor's hand as they posed for a picture next to the emergency communications vehicle Conner drives.

Scott is showing "more concern for the people of his state right now than he does for the RNC," Conner said.

Though Scott got his hands dirty Sunday, helping to load snacks and water onto a Red Cross truck, most of his day was spent on the phone, participating in meetings and conference calls and conducting media interviews.

Wearing a light blue button-down shirt with the Florida seal, khaki pants and hiking boots, he jotted down thoughts on notebook paper using a bold, permanent marker. At times, his wire-frame glasses were perched on the tip of his nose.

Scott's approach to Isaac also reflects some of his experience in the private sector as the owner of a hospital chain.

When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992, four of his hospitals were in the path of the storm. Two were evacuated during the storm, and a third was destroyed.

"You had to get organized and just take one problem at a time, you know, solve it, and go to the next one, solve it, and go to the next one, solve it," Scott said.

He said he surrounded himself with smart people. He quickly mobilized nurses from hospitals that he ran in west Florida to assist with relief efforts. He worked with related companies to get supplies and equipment moved in.

"Not one patient died," he said. "We saved every patient."

Now as governor, he is the face of the statewide response to Isaac. The storm is giving Scott an opportunity to lead — and be seen as leading — in a way that wouldn't have been possible in a seven-minute convention speech.

"Let's get to work, right?" he joked with officials at the Red Cross regional headquarters in Tampa at the end of a conference call with disaster response teams from across the state. "Somebody ran ads about that," he said with a smile.

Isaac could be Rick Scott's moment 08/26/12 [Last modified: Sunday, August 26, 2012 11:17pm]
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