TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Scott, whose catchphrase “It’s working” is the theme for his re-election, has been willing to try just about anything to get Floridians to like him.
It’s not working.
Since the day he was elected, polls have shown that more Floridians dislike him than like him. Not that he hasn’t made efforts to win them over. He tried social media outreach, then gave it up. He tried dressing casual, then gave it up. He tried doing “Let’s Get to Work Days” but seems to have abandoned those, too.
While Scott has said policy and not popularity is what’s important, it’s clear his staff and his party are trying hard to make him more likable. That could be especially important, with the prospect of opposing one of the state’s most likable politicians, former Gov. Charlie Crist, as he seeks re-election.
“They keep trying to grab at straws in trying to get his name out there, and they just need to let him be who he is,” said Jamie Miller, a Republican political consultant. “They don’t need to change who he is, they just need to portray him as who he is.”
Scott once said in an interview that polls don’t matter. “People think that being governor is a popularity contest. No. Your job is to be the governor,” Scott said during an interview with The Associated Press his first year in office. His office said he wasn’t available for an interview Thursday and Friday.
But Scott’s actions indicate he’d like to be more popular. His political committee and the Republican Party of Florida together have paid Virginia-based pollster Tony Fabrizio more than $1 million since Scott took office.
Early in his term Scott targeted his appeal to the far-right. He made his first budget announcement in a church as part of a tea party rally. He shunned the news media during his campaign, refused invitations to talk with newspaper editorial boards and kept the Capitol press corps at a distance.
The former hospital chain CEO had never run for office before and spent $73 million of his own money to win. Democrats successfully defined him as someone who bought the office and cared more about corporate interests than people. As his polls slipped lower, his advisers tried different ways to make him look caring.
During his first month in office, Scott went on Twitter and answered questions from followers. Two months later he did the same on Facebook. His staff said the social media town halls would be a regular feature in his effort to communicate with Floridians. He hasn’t done another.
When poll numbers continued to drop halfway through his first year in office, Scott changed his chief of staff and began a makeover. He traded his suits and ties for business casual clothing, even changing his official photo from a formal pose to a casual shot.
He began accepting invitations from newspaper editorial boards. He took a cue from former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham and scheduled work days where he would do a variety of everyday jobs — the first, selling doughnuts in a Tampa shop.
Well, the suit and tie are back, and after holding “Let’s Get to Work Days” almost monthly over a year and a half, Scott hasn’t done one since February.
Some say the image that Scott’s handlers are trying to create just doesn’t fit who he is.
“(Voters) think that most of his actions are calculated — calculated on the polls, calculated by consultants,” said former Republican Sen. Paul Dockery, who briefly ran for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010.
It’s not that Scott isn’t a nice guy — he is friendly and polite and takes time to talk to people when he travels the state — but he often doesn’t look comfortable in crowds.
“On a one-on-one basis, Gov. Scott is a very likable person. He’s somewhat socially awkward, but he is likable. He seems very shy and he searches for similarities, things that you have in common,” Dockery said. “He’s not comfortable in crowds, he’s not comfortable with the media. I think one of the worst things they do is put him in front of the media and have a 52-second press conference.”
Last year, the Republican Party of Florida began airing TV ads featuring Scott even though he wasn’t on the ballot in the 2012 election. The efforts have helped a little. A June Quinnipiac University polls showed 40 percent of Floridians have a favorable opinion of Scott — better than the 28 percent in the month after his inauguration.
Last month Scott launched a new effort to reach out to people, asking agencies for a list of 50 employees to whom he can send a personal note each month. While lots of governors like to write personal notes, the request came across as impersonal and calculated.
“To help facilitate collecting and compiling this information, Executive Communications is creating a dedicated Intranet link where you can upload your information each month. We are asking our Correspondence Liaisons in each Circuit and Program Office to submit at least two items each month for this project,” Department of Children and Families executive Christopher Goodman wrote to managers.
The memo included examples of what the notes should say. Scott’s office defended his note sending.
“He writes notes to every person he meets,” spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said. “The governor loves writing notes.”
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