LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) – Florida’s presidential primary is more than nine months away, but there’s already one winner in the contest: Gov. Rick Scott.
No, he’s not jumping in the race, but the governor who is still trying to boost his approval ratings in his home state had a big day Tuesday sharing the stage with the GOP’s top tier of presidential candidates and likely candidates at a summit he organized through his Let’s Get to Work political committee.
As the national media watched, candidate after candidate praised Scott for the work he’s done as Florida’s economy recovers from the Great Recession. While Florida’s recovery reflects the national trend, some of the biggest names in Republican politics gave Scott credit for Florida’s unemployment rate dropping.
“It’s very good for him. It puts a spotlight on Florida. It shows him on the national stage. It helps tell the Florida story about how well we’re doing, how good our economy is, what a great place this is to start a business or relocate a business,” said former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux.
It was a bright spot in a year that hasn’t gone well for Scott. In January, Republican activists rejected his pick for state party chairman, a signal that there isn’t unity in the party. Then the Legislature failed to pass a budget and returned to Tallahassee this week to try to resolve differences, and in doing so, slashed Scott’s key tax cut proposal.
But while lawmakers were in Tallahassee, Scott was the center of attention at a Disney World convention center.
The event was similar to presidential candidate showcases that the state Republican Party has held, but Scott did it on his own. He had his name in huge letters behind every candidate as they spoke about economic issues facing the country.
It featured appearances by six potential presidential candidates: Former Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Sen. Marco Rubio was supposed to speak but had to return to Washington and instead taped a video for the audience of 450 business leaders.
Each candidate praised Scott.
“Gov. Scott deserves a lot of credit for implementing conservative ideas, sticking with it, making sure government doesn’t grow faster than people’s ability to pay for it and the net result is we’re now back on track,” Bush said to applause.
Scott, who often is criticized for being too scripted and not answering questions, also came across as relaxed, loose and candid. Part of the program included a lunchtime interview with Politico, a Washington, D.C.-area news organization that is starting a Florida operation. Scott talked about social media, fishing, his grandchildren and how people perceive the print media as supporters of big government and Democrats.
The second half of the program included Scott interviewing Christie on stage in a format that showed the governor as conversational and personable.
Scott said afterward that he’s glad the summit helped showcase Florida.
“We got to tell the Florida story,” Scott said. “We’ve done really well – 865,000 jobs – and we would have done even way better if I had a president that was helpful to us rather than somebody that was constantly raising taxes or causing us problems with regulations and things.”
The event also makes clear that Scott is keeping his political operation alive even though he can’t run for re-election. There’s widespread speculation that he’ll run for Senate in 2018, though Scott said repeatedly he’s not thinking about his political future.
But if he is, Tuesday’s event can’t hurt.
“It raises his profile,” LeMieux said. “You’ve got national media here, everyone’s talking about the Florida success story, everyone’s complimenting Gov. Scott so I think it helps him in whatever he decides to do.”