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Monday, Sep 22, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Gov. Scott getting better at playing the game

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Published:   |   Updated: January 21, 2014 at 09:35 AM

There are three things candidates love more than anything during an election year: cameras, microphones and money. Just so we’re clear, money pretty much trumps the other two every time.

We saw that play out over the weekend in Orlando, where Gov. Rick Scott gathered with supporters to raise cash for his upcoming campaign – not that he appears to need it. The governor has never lacked for money, and he won’t this time, either.

Normally, a sitting governor would be delighted to find cameras and microphones at an event like this. Getting exposure you don’t have to pay for is a candidate’s dream, unless that exposure includes close proximity to a toxic source.

I refer, of course, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He was at the event to trumpet Scott’s re-election and to present a $2.5 million check from the Republican Governors Association. Just a few weeks ago, appearing on the same stage with Christie would have been a near-priceless photo op for Scott, but not now.

I think we all know why.

Scott’s handlers wisely kept the media away from the governor and his tainted Jersey counterpart, which U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, found amusing.

She made sure reporters found her in close proximity to the Orlando event, then said the decision for Scott to welcome Christie to this event but not show him off was “bizarre.”

Actually, it was pretty smart.

I mean, how would a photo of those two smiling faces together look in a Charlie Crist attack ad later this summer? I’m sure Scott was happy to accept whatever money Christie could raise for him, so long as there was no photo record of them actually hanging out together.

It also shows that Scott is much better at this politics game than he was as a clumsy outsider candidate in 2010. He got the money on his terms, and from an organization with which he, to be charitable, has a history.

Republican insiders wanted Bill McCollum as the party’s nominee during the last election; Scott was not part of the plan. He was an outsider playing by his own rules, and backed by a mountain of his own cash.

When Scott ran a primary ad linking McCollum and disgraced GOP boss Jim Greer, it earned a stern and public rebuke from Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, who was head of the Republican governors group.

Barbour demanded Scott remove the ad.

Scott answered by buying more TV time and ran the spot until it was drilled into the brain of every voter.

And when Scott won the primary and the general election, Republicans had to kiss his ring. He’s their guy.

Democrats are delighted with that, of course. They feel Scott makes an easy target on many issues. He’ll get hammered on voter rights after the 2012 election fiasco that left voters standing in line for hours. The massive computer system to handle Florida’s unemployment cases has been a mess. Teachers remain icy toward him. His first lieutenant governor resigned under a cloud.

But employment is up, the economy is improving, and is there any better time than an election year to propose $500 million in tax cuts? I’m not sure how it’s possible to do that while promising to increase education and other high-profile spending, but it is something a smart politician would say.

It’s too soon to tell if that translates into four more years at the top of the Tallahassee heap for Scott, but he is getting better at playing the game.

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