Rick Scott rose to the governors office in 2010 as a favorite candidate of the tea party. Facing a tough contest in 2014, he is looking to keep the tea party movement and conservatives in his corner.
Last week, tea party group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) announced Scott will be offering the keynote speech at the "Defending the American Dream Summit" over Labor Day weekend in Orlando. Scott will be joined by some Republicans already angling for their partys presidential nomination in 2016 including Marco Rubio, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal.
He will be looking to mend fences with the movement. In his two and a half years in office, the tea party has generally remained behind Scott on most issues, though he has taken heat from them on immigration and a handful of other issues.
But the tea party has broken with Scott on two major items. On education, Scott is a proponent of Common Core State Standards, wildly unpopular among many of the tea party faithful. At the AFP event in Orlando, the governor will have the opportunity to make his case on the new education standards to what should be a wary audience on that issue.
Despite becoming politically prominent by opposing Obamacare in 2009 and 2010, earlier this year Scott supported expanding Medicaid, one of the mandates of the law. Republicans in Tallahassee criticized Scotts decision and there were grumbles that the likes of Adam Putnam or Will Weatherford would primary the governor. So far, it appears Scott wont have major primary opposition next year.
When he speaks in Orlando, he can also showcase some of his accomplishments in office. The audience at the AFP event should cheer his economic record as private-sector job creation and Floridas economy continue to grow. He should also win applause for holding the line on the cost and size of state government.
Scott has a far different assignment than Rubio and some of the other politicians looking to score points in Orlando. Expecting a difficult re-election bid in 2014, Scott will be able to focus on Floridians in attendance and pay less attention to voters from other states. Scott has a chance to nail down the base and remind tea party backers why they supported him over Bill McCollum in the Republican primary and helped him beat Alex Sink in the general election in 2010.
By keynoting the AFP event, Scott also has a chance to dampen some of the tea partys discontent against him. If he is going to be competitive in 2014, hell need the GOP and the tea party united behind him. At the AFP event, Scott has the opportunity to take a big step toward rallying them to his corner enthusiastically, just in time as he starts running again.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.