Campaigns and pollsters periodically release to donors and reporters "memos" arguing why their candidate is in terrific shape to win the election, even when their candidate's prospects are hopeless. Today's memo is courtesy of the Democratic group American Bridge 21st Century, and it is not so subtly titled, "Why Rick Scott Can't Win in 2018."
It reads like a last-ditch effort to convince Scott not to run against three-term Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, but it also makes strong and valid points, particularly about how the political climate is vastly different this year than when Scott squeaked to victory in 2010 and 2014 during GOP wave elections.
The counter argument is that Nelson, aka. "The Luckiest Man in Florida," has never faced a tough opponent since Lawton Chiles trounced him for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1990. Plus, polls show a vast chunk of Florida's electorate are barely familiar with Nelson, meaning a well-funded opponent like Scott has an big opportunity to define him as a liberal tax-loving monster.
Here's the American Bridge case against Scott:
From: American Bridge 21st Century
To: Interested Parties
Subject: Why Rick Scott Can't Win in 2018
Washington Republicans are salivating at the thought that Florida Governor Rick Scott is getting ready to run for U.S. Senate. But Scott's two razor-thin wins for governor were driven by a base-first campaign strategy dependent on weak Democratic turnout and tremendous Republican enthusiasm, a constellation of events that has completely reversed itself in 2018. This time, Scott's putative Senate bid will run into a Democratic headwind the likes of which he has never encountered and for which his political brand is totally unprepared.
1. Rick Scott's narrow electoral wins have been tied to Republican wave years – that's guaranteed not to happen this year.
In 2010 and 2014 the generic ballot favored Republicans by about 4 points in the final polls taken before election day. Scott's margin of victory for each his two terms as governor was roughly 1 point. In both 2010 and 2014, he trailed the generic ballot by 3 points. Even in Republican wave years, in other words, Rick Scott has consistently underperformed the generic ballot.
Scott's anti-Obama message, key to his 2010 and 2014 wins, also won't work again. Scott began his political career in 2009 as an anti-Obamacare crusader, and staked both of his campaigns for governor on opposition to President Obama's signature health care law. He juiced Republican turnout by tossing red meat to his base in campaign ads that attacked Obama's approach, not just on Obamacare, but on immigration, Ebola, and ISIS.
Now, the shoe is on the other foot. The latest Gallup poll has President Trump's job approval rating underwater by 16 points. The generic ballot has swung 16 points since Scott's 2010 win to a 7 point Democratic advantage. Rick Scott has no national foil with which to mobilize grassroots Republican energy; in fact, Trump's unpopularity will sap Republican enthusiasm and throw a wet blanket on Scott's customary base-first campaign plan.
2. Scott is a historically weak vote-getter, winning the fewest votes of all the statewide Republicans winners in 2010 and 2014.
Rick Scott has consistently underperformed every other statewide elected Republican. In 2010, Scott won by only 60,000 votes, hundreds of thousands of votes less than the other 4 Republicans on the statewide ballot. While spending massive sums of his own money, in 2010 Scott won nearly 350,000 fewer votes than Jeff Atwater, the successful Republican candidate for Chief Financial Officer. He won fewer votes than any of the other four Republicans who won statewide elections that day.
In 2014, Scott faced an even worse humiliation, winning by only one point while every other statewide Republican earned over 300,000 more votes than he did.
Rick Scott is a Historically Weak Vote-Getter
Candidate 2010 2014
Rubio 2,645,743 votes n/a
Scott 2,619,335 2,865,343
Bondi 2,850,667 3,215,528
Putnam 2,908,086 3,342,392
Atwater 2,967,052 3,353,897
Source: Florida Divison of Elections
Simply put, Rick Scott has just never been popular in Florida. He's skated to two razor-thin wins on the back of historic campaign spending, trailing other Florida politicians with far smaller war chests.
3. Florida has seen an unprecedented influx of new voters, especially from Puerto Rico.
Over 100,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. Some experts predict as many as 200,000 more will move to Florida over the coming year, and progressive voter registration groups are already working to register Puerto Rican voters.
As the island continues to struggle and the reality sinks in that Republican neglect of Puerto Rican recovery operations fell far short of help given to others, such as Texas, Rick Scott is going to be unable to distance himself from the party he loyally supports.
Every time Rick Scott campaigns with Donald Trump in Florida – or simply brags about his billionaire buddy in the White House – count on new arrivals from Puerto Rico to remember the time Trump threw paper towels at families desperate for electricity and drinking water.
4. Because of tough federal disclosure laws, Scott's money will be an issue like never before.
Rick Scott's net worth has gone up by $46 million during his time as governor, but he keeps it hidden from public view. Has he profited off the state of Florida? The public has a right to know, but for over seven years Scott has avoided public disclosure of his investments with a deeply unethical "blind trust" – that is run by his friend and former longtime employee, Alan Bazaar.
But Federal disclosure laws are considerably stronger than Florida's, and Scott will be forced to open the books on his wealth after he announces for U.S. Senate. Count on a drip-drip-drip of negative headlines as Scott's tangled web of investments reveal startling ethical lapses. After all, transactions glimpsed by the media have already revealed staggering conflicts of interest by Scott:
After he backed oil drilling in the Everglades, it emerged that he is invested in a company that wants to drill in the Everglades.
Scott pushed a Medicaid privatization bill that could have steered contracts to a health care company he owned.
Scott had a stake in a pipeline firm whose $3 billion natural gas pipeline through Florida he and his appointees shepherded through regulatory hurdles.
Scott personally owned stock in an Irish health care products company, while approving over $825,000 in tax rebates for that company.
Don't forget, Rick Scott likely controls millions he has never admitted even exist. Rick Scott left the hospital company he founded with a $300 million golden parachute, but when he took office in 2011 claimed he was only worth $100 million. Either Rick Scott is a disastrously bad businessman, or he is hiding his vast personal wealth in sneaky ways.
5. The key issues in the 2018 election will be uniquely unfavorable to Rick Scott.
Rick Scott's record as Florida governor is a legacy of corruption, incompetence, and big handouts for large corporations, allowing middle class jobs and wages to stagnate. Scott has also pursued an ideological agenda at odds with the majority of Floridians — and in 2018 he will have to answer for it. From opioid addiction to gun violence prevention, the issues being talked about by regular Floridians are uniquely bad for Rick Scott. Here are just three examples of top issues on the minds of Florida voters, and Rick Scott's abysmal track record:
Opioids: Rick Scott has failed to properly address the opioid crisis – but that doesn't stop his self-serving lies that he is trying to help families.
Gun Reform: Scott signed gun laws that made Floridians less safe and enabled future tragedies, while doing nothing after several mass shootings. Then, in 2018, he flipped, endorsing a weak gun reform bill not supported by the Parkland students and that "falls short" of what Floridians demanded.
Disaster Management: Rick Scott's disaster management has been called into question like never before. During Hurricane Irma, Rick Scott gave Florida's nursing homes his personal cell phone number as a publicity stunt – then let over 100 phone calls go straight to voicemail, including calls from a nursing home where 14 seniors died. Rick Scott then deleted the messages related to the nursing home deaths. Then, when a concerned engineer called Scott's Department of Transportation to report structural problems at a Miami pedestrian bridge, he got voicemail again — and three days later, six people died.
Rick Scott's decision to run for U.S. Senate will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in recent Florida political history. Scott's two razor-thin wins were dependent on a base-first strategy that only works in Republican wave years. Without backlash against the White House to rely on, Scott will no doubt resort to spending millions on negative ads – but in 2010 and 2014, after twice setting a record for spending in a Florida campaign, Scott won the lowest number of votes of all the statewide Republicans on the ballot. The pattern is clear: even when Republicans have done well, Rick Scott has struggled. It is too early to tell if the Democratic wave in 2018 will be a surge or a tsunami, but one thing is clear: it will be too strong for Rick Scott to overcome.