Where Scott's speech works, and where it doesn't


Gov. Rick Scott makes a point during his State of the State address Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convened today for its annual 60-day session.

AP Photo/Phil Sears
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at 6:14 p.m.

During his State of the State address Tuesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott seven times declared "it's working," a new slogan crediting his policies for progress over his two years in office.

In that spirit, here's a look at what worked and what didn't in his speech:

Working

1. The jobs guy: There's little argument that Florida's economy is better today than two years ago, a point Scott aggressively drove home.

"Our unemployment rate has now dropped by more than 3 percentage points from two years ago - the second-biggest drop in the country," Scott said.

Given that Scott ran in 2010 as the jobs governor, the message is critical for Florida voters who, despite Scott's abysmal poll ratings, could swing his way if he demonstrates he's performing as promised.

2. Aiming for the middle: The man who relied so heavily on the Tea Party to win in 2010 seemed far removed from his base. Scott re-emphasized his push for expanding Medicaid and increasing government spending on schools - two pretty moderate positions sure to stir opposition from conservatives.

Neither proposal likely has much of a chance with the legislators he spoke to. But more important might be how voters perceive his push to the middle. Even if he doesn't get the Medicaid expansion or teacher raises, he can point to independents and moderates that he tried.

3. Momma's Boy with humble beginnings: Trying to get voters to like him more as a person, Scott turned to his mom. He dedicated several minutes of his speech to his mother, Esther, who died in November at 84. Scott talked at length about staying in touch with her despite his travels and her dedication to doing what was right for her children.

"The longer I live, the more I am convinced that my mom was right," Scott said of Esther, who also was featured in his 2010 campaign ads.

Toss in tales of growing up poor, and Scott seemed to be trying to build a narrative of a guy far removed from the out-of-touch rich guy image that Democrats pinned on 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

It's a critical point as Scott prepares for re-election in 2014. Polls show Scott has a likability problem. Just 36 percent of voters said they like Scott as a person in a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

4. Contrasting Crist: Scott didn't mention former Gov. Charlie Crist by name, but it was clear he was setting up a counter-argument to Crist, now a Democrat and said to be considering challenging Scott. Scott noted that before he was elected the state's unemployment was 11.1 percent.

"In the four years before I took office, Florida lost more than 825,000 jobs," Scott said.

Not working

1. Legislative disconnect: The leaders of the Senate and House are, like Scott, conservative Republicans, but there was little indication that they are on the same page.

Scott talked about his priorities to give teachers raises, expand Medicaid and cut sales taxes on manufacturing equipment. But an hour earlier, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, articulated his priorities in a speech to the House - ethics reform, addressing the state's pension system and providing in-state tuition to children born in Florida to undocumented immigrants all got time.

Scott's manufacturing tax cut and his teacher pay raise didn't get a mention. Weatherford also blasted the idea of expanding Medicaid. It's another sign that Scott has yet to figure out how to work with lawmakers.

2. Outsider role: Scott begins his third year in the governor's mansion. He survived a brutal Republican primary and general election in 2010 and ran campaign-like ads against President Barack Obama's health-care reforms before that.

Yet on Tuesday he twice tried to declare that he is not a politician, clinging to the outsider mentality that appealed to many in 2010. That could be a tough sell for voters, given Scott is more than halfway through his term as governor of one of the nation's four largest states.

3. Rick Perry envy: Once again, Scott injected Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, into a speech. Scott in the past has fawned over Perry's job creation efforts and said he wants to emulate it in Florida. He cracked a fishing joke and said he hoped Perry was listening to his speech.

"Florida will soon unseat Texas as the top job creator in the nation," Scott said.

Given that Perry is now known as a failed GOP presidential candidate who has trouble remembering lists of three, it might not have the impact Scott intended.

4. Criticizing other states: Scott bashed public policy in Illinois, California and New York, saying taxing policies there hindered those states' growth and helped make Florida more attractive to business leaders.

Yet New York and California both reported gross state product - a measure of economic activity equivalent to a national gross domestic product - that dwarf Florida's. And Illinois' GSP increased more in 2011 than Florida's, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While Florida's economic situation is improving, it is far from matching up to the economic engines of California or New York.

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