When Mitt Romney campaigns in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's absence is evident

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, right, won the Florida GOP primary in 2008 after being endorsed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Associated Press (2008)

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, right, won the Florida GOP primary in 2008 after being endorsed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

ORLANDO — Whatever strategy Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has for winning Florida, it doesn't include campaigning with Gov. Rick Scott.

Tuesday was the latest example of how Scott has steered clear — or been steered clear —from the presidential campaign trail.

While Romney stumped at an Orlando air filter manufacturing company, Scott was nowhere to be found.

Scott's obligation, according to his official calendar: "staff and call time." (Romney was introduced at the event by U.S. Reps. Daniel Webster and Connie Mack IV, who is running for U.S. Senate.)

Later that day, Romney attended a luncheon with former Sen. Mel Martinez and former Attorney General Bill McCollum at an Orlando country club.

As for Scott?

He was at a ceremonial bill signing in Miami.

"MittRomney has had 53 event in Florida. @FLGovScott hasn't attended any of them. #MittLostRicksPhoneNumber?" Eric Jotkoff, a Florida spokesman for President Barack Obama's campaign, mockingly tweeted.

Given the relative positions of the two politicians in polls, the estrangement between Scott and Romney isn't that difficult to understand, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"At this point, Scott is probably not an asset for Romney in this state," Brown said. "Romney is doing okay in the state. He's certainly more popular in the state than Rick Scott is."

While a Quinnipiac poll of 1,722 registered voters released on May 24 showed Scott's approval ratings actually rose to 41 percent, his negative ratings were still higher. Meanwhile, Romney held a 47 percent to 41 percent lead over Obama in Florida in a poll released on May 23 by Quinnipiac.

"Is it symbolic that Scott and Romney aren't spending more time together? Yes," Brown said. "Is it surprising? No."

While not necessarily surprising, it is somewhat of an aberration that Florida's governor has vanished from the presidential campaign.

In 2000 and 2004, then-Gov. Jeb Bush was instrumental in helping his brother, George W. Bush, win the state. In 2008, the Republican nominee, John McCain almost tapped then-Gov. Charlie Crist as his running mate during a campaign in which the two were inseparable.

Bush and Crist were popular at the time.

Yet too much can be made from these examples, said Rick Wilson, a Republican media strategist based in Tallahassee.

"You can't make the comparison because Crist had his own political ambitions and Jeb Bush had his familial obligations," Wilson said. "Never once have I seen a state in which a governor's popularity helped or hurt a presidential candidate. Crist's popularity was at 70 percent, and it didn't do anything for McCain."

If Scott's remoteness is just happenstance, it's still something Romney campaign officials won't discuss.

Alberto Martinez, a Florida adviser for the Romney campaign, declined to comment about Scott's absences, other than emailing a nongermane statement that claimed the governor is "implementing a pro-growth agenda."

Martinez did note that most of Romney's events in Florida were held before the primary. Three have been held since, he said.

In May, Romney took a two-day trip through Florida. On May 16, after a morning speech in St. Petersburg, Romney headed to the Avila Golf & Country Club in north Tampa, where some 200 supporters gathered, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford. The next day, Romney visited Jacksonville.

Scott was in Washington that day for a Florida Council of 100 board of directors meeting.

The no-shows aren't on purpose, Scott said. They're coincidence.

"Well, you know, he hasn't been here a lot," Scott said this week, adding that he couldn't meet Romney on Tuesday because he had other plans, including the bill signing.

"I'd love to be helpful to him, but I have to make sure that after I commit to people that I'm going to their event, that I do it," Scott said.

Scott is more than just a governor in a swing state, however. He's the leader of the state that's hosting the Republican National Convention in Tampa this August. But Scott seems to be backtracking from an earlier statement where he said he hopes to get a prime-time speaking slot at the convention.

"I've never done a convention before," Scott said. "My goal is just to be helpful in whatever they ask me to do."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@tampabay.com (813) 226-3401.

When Mitt Romney campaigns in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott's absence is evident 06/15/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 15, 2012 11:12pm]

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