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A Big Headache

Someone get the Florida GOP some Advil, because Rick Scott is turning into a big headache for his party. Florida Republicans have tried to pretend Scott is “invisible,” but he’s making it tough — trumpeting Florida’s positive economic growth under President Obama and continuing to “undermine” Mitt Romney’s central message. Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus recently refused to say if home-state Governor Scott would be allowed to speak at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Expect Republicans up and down the ticket in Florida to spend the next three and half months dealing with the toxic brand (and rock-bottom approval ratings) of their biggest headache: Gov. Rick Scott.  

Ocala Star Banner: State’s economy has GOP sending mixed messages

By Lloyd Dunkelberger

Published: Sunday, July 22, 2012 at 7:49 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — President Barack Obama warned his supporters in Palm Beach County this week that Mitt Romney will hammer him with a relentless message this fall.

“What they’re going to say is, well, you know what the economy is still bad and it’s Obama fault,” he told supporters at the Century Village retirement community on Thursday. “That’s their message over and over again.”

Yet the next day, a prominent Florida Republican delivered a different message on the state of the economy in the nation’s largest swing state.

“Florida’s economy is headed in the right direction,” declared Gov. Rick Scott, citing the creation of 9,000 new jobs in June and signs of revival in the state’s housing market and consumer spending.

“As companies are choosing to grow and expand in our state, we are continuing to see Florida experience a positive economic recovery,” Scott said in a statement after appearing at a state employment center in Pasco County.

Scott credits his policies — tax and spending cuts and a reduction in state regulations — as the catalyst for the improvement. He and other Republican leaders say Obama’s policies could thwart or derail that recovery.

But analysts say the conflicting messages among Republicans could confuse Florida voters. Scott’s unwavering talk about job growth could undermine some of Romney’s attack in this key political state. Romney’s relentless criticism of Florida’s economy could erode Scott’s message of an economic revival.

Lance deHaven-Smith, a political scientist at Florida State University, said it puts Scott, who ran on a platform of economic revival and job creation in 2010, in an “awkward” position.

“If he defends his record it raises questions about Romney’s claims,” deHaven-Smith said. “But if he doesn’t say anything, he lets people think that nothing good is happening in the state of Florida on the economy.”

DeHaven-Smith said it may difficult to meld those two messages, potentially confusing voters.

The Romney campaign and Florida GOP leaders have tried to navigate that messaging minefield by praising Scott and Republican legislative leaders for the positive economic news, while still laying blame on Obama.

Before Obama’s Florida visit this week, the Romney campaign said Scott and state lawmakers were “laser-focused on job creation,” but that Florida was “saddled with President Obama’s job-killing and business-discouraging economic policies.”

A similar message came from the state Republican Party.

Kristen McDonald, a spokeswoman for the party, said Scott and the Legislature’s policies have led to job growth and economic improvement in the state.

“The Obama Administration’s failed economic policies have only been counterproductive to the efforts of our Republican leaders,” McDonald said. “What Florida needs is a national partner in the White House who will implement policies that strengthen the growth we have seen in our state and that’s exactly what Gov. Romney will do.”

Yet at the same time, the Romney campaign questioned one of the key claims of the Scott administration. 

Scott is proud of the fact that the state’s unemployment rate has plunged from 10.9 percent when he took office to the current 8.6 percent. But state economists reviewing data over the first five months of this year, attributed a majority of the decline to Floridians leaving the workforce rather than finding jobs. A more accurate unemployment rate would be 9.5 percent, according to the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The Romney campaign cited that report in criticizing Obama’s claims that he has helped the economy.

“The figures were in keeping with national data that show that the slow decline in unemployment is due to ‘a smaller labor force and not to job growth,’ ” the Romney campaign said.

Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at the University of Central Florida, said Scott can try to distinguish his efforts to help the state’s economy from Obama’s by citing specific policies he has been involved in, such as trade mission or his efforts to bring new companies to the state.

“It puts Gov. Scott in the position of talking about how Florida’s economy is getting better but trying to target it and take credit for his own initiatives and trying to make sure he doesn’t speak so (broadly) that he is somehow bolstering President Obama’s case at the same time,” Jewett said.

Scott did exactly that on Friday when he delivered his weekly radio address to the state.

“This week, I was pleased to announce two companies that have recently decided to invest and expand their Florida operations, bringing jobs into our state,” Scott said, referring to plans for a major convenience store chain to come to Florida and the expansion of mortgage management company in the state.

Jewett said in some ways Scott’s jobs message is “a little bit irrelevant” in the presidential race, since most voters will be getting their information from the waves of television advertising that is already blanketing the state. “The message that is going to influence the voters is the millions of dollars” in advertising, Jewett said.

He said Scott will get a chance to get his message out when he runs for re-election in 2014.

“You can bet he will be spending millions to tell people how wonderful the economy is,” Jewett said.

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