1. Opinion

Nickens: This race is about Scott's record, not Obama's

Scott sounds more like a tea party candidate running for federal office than a governor up for re-election.
Scott sounds more like a tea party candidate running for federal office than a governor up for re-election.
Published Apr. 18, 2014

When politicians cannot run on their record, they change the subject.

That's what Gov. Rick Scott has been doing. It's hard to win re-election by promoting how your administration has eroded environmental protections, suppressed voting, fouled up school accountability and teacher evaluations, starved higher education and failed to protect Floridians from higher rates for electricity and property insurance. Good luck boiling that down to a catchy bumper sticker.

Scott promotes himself as the jobs governor and takes credit for the recovering economy. But the state's unemployment rate still stands at 6.2 percent, and much of the decline in the rate can be traced to more relatively low-paying service jobs and to so many discouraged jobless residents giving up on looking for work. The governor has promised hundreds of millions in tax breaks in return for new jobs, but most of those jobs have yet to be created. Voters also understand that any governor has little control over an economy driven by housing prices, the stock market and federal policy.

So now Scott is focusing on his opponent, and it's not likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist. It's President Barack Obama. Scott lately sounds more like a tea party candidate eager to move to Washington than an incumbent governor trying to stay in Tallahassee. He also is unencumbered by the facts.

In television campaign ads, Scott attacks his favorite target, the Affordable Care Act. He says the law resulted in 300,000 Floridians losing their private insurance coverage. That is wrong. Florida Blue, which is a big contributor to Scott's political committee, is the source of that number and confirms the ads are wrong. The 300,000 initially referred to the number of Florida Blue members whose policies didn't appear to meet the new coverage standards. It turned out that only 40,000 members actually received a notice that their polices would not comply, and then Obama allowed those plans to remain in place through 2014. That hasn't stopped Scott from continuing to air false ads.

The governor also isn't concerned about accuracy when he tries to ingratiate himself with older voters by defending Medicare Advantage. He held events at a Miami senior center and at the Villages, the Central Florida retirement mecca, one day last week to blast looming federal cuts to the popular program. Scott ignored the Obama administration's announcement earlier in the week that the cuts would not take place and that federal spending on Medicare Advantage actually would increase slightly. Never let the facts get in the way of a good scare tactic.

Then there are the curious attempts by the Scott administration to perform surprise inspections at veterans hospitals, including the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa and the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Seminole. The governor exploited national reports of deaths in VA hospitals due to delays in treatment. None of those deaths occurred in the Tampa Bay area. But that did not stop state inspectors from showing up and the administration from releasing news releases as soon as they were turned away from the federal medical centers. Never mind that the VA medical centers are part of the federal government, generally not subject to state law and have never been subject to state inspection.

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Scott has even ventured into foreign policy. He has argued at least twice in Miami that Obama should place economic sanctions on Venezuela for the government's crackdown on protesters and political opponents.

Let's see: Appeal to conservatives and middle class voters by attacking the Affordable Care Act with false accusations? Check. Cultivate older voters by spreading more inaccuracies about Medicare Advantage? Check. Pretend to protect military veterans by staging media events at VA hospitals? Check. Cultivate Hispanics in South Florida by wading into foreign policy? Check.

About the only Obama administration news Scott hasn't weighed in on is the release of Medicare billing records showing Florida doctors are being reimbursed millions of dollars. Two of those doctors led the nation in reimbursements and are major Democratic contributors who have been questioned by investigators about excessive or fraudulent bills. Scott, the former CEO of the nation's largest hospital company that paid a record fine for Medicare fraud, let that one pass.

Scott's strategy is clear. Get through the legislative session without major controversies. Attack the president, whose poll numbers are bad at the moment, to energize the Republican base. Wrap Obama around Crist's neck.

Here's why that won't work. First, it is not 2010 and there is no angry wave of tea party voters like the one Scott rode into office. Second, Florida voters know Crist and like him. Third, the governor's race will not be decided by federal issues.

And most importantly, Scott now has a record in public office. The outcome of the governor's race will be determined by how voters judge his performance, not the president's.