Sorry, Charlie, Rick Scott Nailed Down the GOP Base
Around the State
Considered politically dead for much of last year, Rick Scott has bounced back in the polls and has edged ahead of Charlie Crist in recent surveys. One of the reasons Scott has slipped ahead has been the result of his control over the Republican base, no small thing especially as Crist has run five times for statewide office for the GOP before jumping ship to the Democrats.
Scott’s grasp on the GOP was on display again in recent days when Bill McCollum fell in line behind the governor. McCollum and Scott clashed in the Republican primary in 2010 and they left lasting wounds in each other. After losing the primary, McCollum sulked in his tent, refusing to back Scott over Alex Sink.
Republicans never quite rallied behind Scott during the first half of his term in office, a reminder that 54 percent of them didn’t vote for him in the primary. Even as late as 2013, Scott was having problems with the GOP. A poll taken by Quinnipiac University in March 2013 showed that 28 percent of Republicans in Florida didn’t think Scott deserved a second term. The same poll found Scott in less-than-ideal shape if he was challenged for the Republican nomination. When matched up against Adam Putnam, Scott took less than a majority of Republicans -- only 47 percent -- while 24 percent said they would back Putnam.
A poll from Dem-aligned PPP released in the same month, also showed Scott getting mediocre marks from Republicans. The PPP poll found only 42 percent of Republicans wanted Scott to carry their banner in 2014 while 43 percent preferred another candidate. Scott garnered less than a majority of Republicans again -- 48 percent -- when matched up against Putnam, who took 24 percent, in the PPP poll. Scott did even worse against Pam Bondi, taking only 46 percent against the attorney general while she took 27 percent. Only against Ted Yoho did a majority of Republicans -- 54 percent -- back Scott.
But Scott has bounced back with Republicans, with 70 percent or more of them backing him. Part of that comes from Crist. Bad enough that Crist left the GOP after it had supported him for years, but he has grown increasingly critical of Republicans and moved left on the issues.
Scott also scores points with Republicans on other fronts. He has gone out of his way this year to trumpet tax cuts he’s backed and his commitment to veterans. That’s bread and butter for most Republicans.
The GOP faithful also can cheer Scott’s constant opposition to Barack Obama. Scott came out of nowhere to lead Conservatives for Patients’ Rights against Obamacare and going after the president has been a constant strategy in the governor’s playbook. Despite his past in the GOP, Crist will have a hard time making inroads with Republicans as Scott reminds them about Crist's support of Obama.
To be sure, conservatives have reasons to grumble about Scott on occasion: not bringing an Arizona-style immigration law to Florida, not performing major cuts to state government and other issues. Despite that, Scott has a better hold on his Republican base now than he ever has and McCollum finally coming around is yet more proof of this. That’s bad news for Charlie Crist who had hoped to reel in some Republican votes despite his recent rash of party switches.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.