When Rick Scott talked to conservative activists at an Americans for Prosperity event last week, he signaled some of the themes he will highlight as he runs in what is expected to be a tough re-election campaign next year.
Scotts an underdog as the fall opens, but he has been slowly gaining ground in the polls as the economy recovers. Based on his speech Friday, Scott and his team are more than aware of this. He went out of his way to highlight Floridas recovery.
The governor also showed no hesitation in reflecting Floridas economy under Charlie Crist in a negative light. He slammed Crist, who had been a Republican for most of his career before leaving the Republicans in 2010 and then joining the Democrats last year, for leaving Florida in debt. He also bashed Crist for relying on federal stimulus monies to manage the state finances.
Scott played up his administrations achievements of holding the line on taxes while cutting spending. He also showcased how his administration has changed rules for Floridians seeking welfare, from requiring drug tests to demanding proof that the unemployed were actively looking for new jobs.
Turning to the future, he called for the Legislature to cut taxes next year while noting the state is making record investments in education. With only 14 months until the general election, he is looking to defend himself from charges that he is gutting schools
Scott also played up his personal side. During his speech last week, he offered a little bit of biographical information and started the speech with news about his grandchildren.
Its an interesting tactic and one that worked for Scott before. Playing up his personal side helped him back in 2010 when the campaign spotlight turned toward his mother who went out of her way to defend him and insist he was a good boy.
Polls find Scott is not personally popular and hes clearly at a disadvantage here compared to the often charming Crist. Scott tried to play up his personal side before, such as performing a work day making doughuts as he did when he was in high school. While Scott might not be doing work days any more, he hasnt abandoned trying to offer Floridians a look at his life.
The governor is starting early and he probably has to if he wants to turn his numbers around. Hes developing his attacks against Crist and looking to shore up his defenses. Look for Scott to continue with these themes throughout the fall as he tries to narrow the gap before 2014 begins and Charlie Crist slips back into the limelight with a book tour and the start of his latest campaign.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.