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Weekly Roundup: Don't Worry? No. But Be Happy? Maybe

November 22, 2013 - 6:00pm

At this rate, Gov. Rick Scott might start commissioning weekly surveys by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Consider: In June, the last time that the Connecticut-based school did a poll in Florida, Scott had sliced his deficit against former Gov. Charlie Crist from 16 points to 10. The following Friday, the state's unemployment rate fell from 7.2 percent to 7.1 percent.

This week's Quinnipiac release had more good news for the Republican governor: The gap between Scott and Crist is now down to 7 points. And figures released Friday showed the unemployment rate slipping yet again, from 6.8 percent in September to 6.7 percent in October.

It might not quite be time for Scott to start singing "Happy Days Are Here Again." But if the governor's bid for re-election is compared to the movie that song first appeared in -- "Chasing Rainbows" -- it looks like Scott might be gaining on them.


The bottom line for the Quinnipiac poll was still not a great number for Scott. Crist, a former Republican who became a Democrat last year, leads his successor, 47-40, and Scott's job approval rating is still underwater (47-42). Things might be looking slightly brighter for the incumbent, but his numbers would almost have to improve -- or Crist's worsen -- for Scott to claim a second term.

"In other words, for Scott to win, he's going to have to convince voters that Charlie was not a good governor and that he (Crist) is a political opportunist," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac institute. "And we all expect that he will spend tens of millions of dollars to make that argument. We'll see whether it works or not."

Democratic consultant Steve Schale brushed off the results as an inevitable tightening of the governor's race.

"The idea that this was ever a 15-point race is foolish," said Schale, who is advising Crist but made clear he wasn't speaking for the campaign.

Meanwhile, Crist was making the rounds at the Florida Press Center -- an opportunity to schmooze with the journalists who will be covering his race -- and perhaps watching nervously the actions of a certain former spaceman.

Confirming reports that have circulated for months, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson told Politico -- a D.C.-based news organization -- that he might jump into the race for governor if Crist "gets into trouble."

When asked to elaborate on what trouble might mean, Nelson said, "That's in the eye of the beholder," according to Politico.

Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin said in an email he "had nothing to add" to the report, and Schale tried to downplay it.

"It doesn't change anything. Charlie Crist is still running for governor. He's still building a campaign. He's still out there every day doing the kinds of things you do when you want to get elected governor. There's nothing about this that's changing any of that except that Bill Nelson's not doing that," he said.

Nelson, for the record, was not included in any of the scenarios that Quinnipiac ran in its November poll; Brown said they would put the senator back in the mix if he showed any interest in actually running.


The new unemployment figures, meanwhile, marked Florida's lowest unemployment rate in more than five years, according to the state. The new seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 6.7 percent still represents an estimated 625,000 people who are out of work.

The October number also represents 31,000 fewer people being out of work than in August, the last monthly jobless figures available before Friday's release. The September numbers were delayed because the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics suspended all data collection during the federal-government shutdown.

The drop in the overall number of unemployed outpaced the number of people who simply left Florida's workforce between September and October -- 9,000.

Scott used the numbers to tout his progress and also to test some themes for when he faces voters next year.

"We don't just want a state where job creation reaches a certain number, or unemployment falls to a certain number," Scott said in a prepared statement. "We want to create an opportunity economy. We want a state with dynamic, growing industries that will create jobs and careers for generations to come."

Another central plank of Scott's re-election effort will almost certainly be his pledge to lower taxes and fees by $500 million during the legislative session that opens in March. State economists met Wednesday to try to attach a price-tag to some of the items on the menu.

For example, slashing the communications-services tax, which affects things like cell phone services, by 2 percent would drain $255 million out of state revenue. Slicing a percentage point off a commercial rental tax would reduce state revenue by about $235.6 million, and local revenue by $20.2 million -- with the price tag going up in future years.

Repeating the three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday would cost the state $35.9 million, while a similar measure for hurricane gear would likely reduce income by just $3.3 million.

One idea that is relatively unlikely to go far is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's proposal to trim the sales tax on energy used by businesses.

Putnam said Monday he remains behind the proposal to cut in half the 7 percent tax and to redirect the remaining revenue for school construction and maintenance -- but it probably won't go anywhere as lawmakers offer their own proposals for how to reach Scott's half-billion-dollar goal.

"I've been in their shoes, I know they've got a lot of ideas," Putnam, a former lawmaker, told reporters during a pen and pad session in his Capitol conference room. "They've got a budget they need to balance, and concerns about a surplus that hopefully will continue to be as robust as they've projected. But given the uncertainty of the national economy, we may not know until March just what type of budget outlook we have and how much there is to make the type of investments this might cost."


In one of the least surprising developments of the week, the Florida Board of Governors reached out and touched their next choice for chancellor: Marshall Criser, currently the president of AT&T in Florida.

The board voted unanimously to name Criser to the position Wednesday afternoon, putting a fixture of Florida's business and political establishment atop the network of 12 universities.

Criser, the son of a former president of the University of Florida and member of the UF board of trustees, has long been the front-runner for the position. Criser has headed up the telecom's presence in Florida since 2005 and has had a role in government relations in Florida for AT&T or its state predecessor, BellSouth, off and on since 1989.

He is also a former chairman of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and currently serves as chairman of the Florida Council of 100.

"I believe that our state has laid the foundation to be the leader in academic quality, access for Florida's students, and accountability to ensure the value of investing in Florida's future," Criser said in a statement following the vote.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Florida's unemployment rate hit 6.7 percent, its lowest level in more than five years.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "I've hit a bottom and I realize I need help." -- Southwest Florida Congressman Trey Radel to Judge Robert S. Tignor after pleading guilty to possession of cocaine, as quoted by The Washington Post.

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