The Real Rick Scott?
Gov. Rick Scott set tongues wagging at an economic summit featuring half-a-dozen GOP presidential hopefuls this week at Disney World.
The hubbub wasn't only about Scott's ability to draw more than 400 of the state's corporate honchos, or the gushing admiration expressed by current and former Republican governors like Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee.
Scott fans -- and even those who aren't so keen on the governor -- were struck by what appeared to be a new and improved, clearly comfortable Scott, a sharp contrast from the man who has been mocked over the past four years for his awkward demeanor and frustrating penchant for responding to reporters with talking points seemingly unrelated to the question at hand.
Appearing on stage with Politico's Mike Allen and Marc Caputo for a lunchtime conversation, a relaxed Scott charmed the audience as well as his hosts. Aside from fielding questions about foreign trade and his CEO-approach to governing, Scott joked about his workout regimen, boasted about his grandkids and swapped fishing tales, easily coaxing laughs and applause from the crowd.
Scott laughingly sidestepped a question about whether the Legislature -- back in Tallahassee for a special session on the budget -- is dysfunctional.
"Well, if they pass my tax cuts and give me my education money, I love them," he said to an audience munching on lo mein, grilled-cheese sandwiches and root-beer floats.
Scott, who narrowly defeated Democratic opponents twice in a state coveted by the GOP contenders who shared the stage with him, also imparted some advice to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who at one point said he might avoid the Sunshine State because of the dominance of Florida favorite sons, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
"…If that was true that somebody that had a statewide reputation couldn't be beat, I wouldn't have won. Think about it. … Everybody, everybody in the Republican Party pretty much had endorsed my opponent in the primary in 2010. And because I had a message that resonated, I won. I ran against the sitting CFO (Democrat Alex Sink) and I still won. So if you walk into the state, you've got to put time into it. You've got to talk to everybody. But if you have the right message, you can win," Scott, who also put more than $70 million of his own money into the 2010 election, said.
Scott let his hair down a bit when complaining that the federal government --- and President Barack Obama in particular --- keeps states from flourishing.
"…They try to do things that don't help us. … Has the president ever called some governor (and said) how can I help you get more jobs in the state? You think that's ever happened? No. Has he ever said, hey we're thinking about a regulation, I just want to see how it might apply to you. No. In contrast, would I call a mayor and ask them about something? Yeah," he said, relating a recent visit with seven Miami-Dade mayors.
"I said, if there's anything happening, call me. Most of them have my cell. I said, you call me and tell me if there's a regulation, if there's an agency, if there's anything that's happening that's causing an adverse impact on you, or if anything goes through the budget that's important to you, you call me. You think that happens out of D.C? I doubt it."
Scott also said he scans about 10 websites every morning, that his favorite newspaper is the Wall Street Journal, and that "the print media as a group likes big government." He also confirmed that he has a fax at home.
Scott believes that "God put me here for a purpose," he said when asked about his faith.
"I'd like him to send me a fax and tell me what it was so that I could follow it. But I do believe it," he said.
Scott's performance didn't surprise supporters who've witnessed the former health-care executive's affability in small crowds or in one-on-one visits.
But many agreed it was the first time his off-camera persona shone through in public.
"That's how he really is most of the time, and his level of discomfort comes with large groups of people he doesn't know, or crowds, and press gaggles," said Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida. "I think he was in his element. He's been in a leadership role for a very long time … and he was amongst a room full of leaders. … I think he was just extremely comfortable with the room. That was him shining through. It wasn't a retrained or a retooled Rick Scott."
SCOTT'S 'WINNING BRAND'
It's no wonder that Walker, Bush, Jindal, Huckabee, Chris Christie and Scott's former competitor in chief, Perry, jumped at Scott's invitation. (Rubio canceled an appearance at the last minute because of a vote in Washington concerning national security).
"You literally have the ability to fund a presidential campaign in this room," Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard noted.
Jaded Capitol reporters may discount Scott's "winning brand," Ballard said, but the candidates don't.
"Everyone beats the crap out of him about things in Tallahassee. But when you take a step back and look at it from a national perspective, Florida's doing great," he said. "You guys don't think he's a national player. He is a national player, and in Florida primary politics, he's a huge player. We're so used to Jeb and Marco and they're the only ones who matter. Rick Scott matters a lot."