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Saving the RPOF From the GOP Governor | Peter Schorsch

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Saving the RPOF From the GOP Governor | Peter Schorsch

Saving the RPOF From the GOP Governor
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 — Peter Schorsch

Governor Rick Scott will not face a serious primary challenge when he runs for re-election.

Governor Rick Scott will not face a serious primary challenge when he runs for re-election.

Governor Rick Scott will not face a serious primary challenge when he runs for re-election.

Say that enough times, Scott's handlers believe, and eventually prognostication will take hold as conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom will then become a fait accompli. And by the time anyone in the Republican Party notices just how politically vulnerable Scott truly is, it will be too late for the GOP to do anything about it.

How vulnerable would Scott be in a primary? Public Policy Polling released numbers from its first 2013 survey of the state. It's clear that Scott is in a very bad position. Scott's approval rating is just 33 percent, with 57 percent of voters disapproving of him. Scott's numbers had gradually improved over the course of 2012, but these numbers represent a regression from early November when he was at a 37/48 spread. Scott meets with near universal disapproval from Democrats (21/71) and independents (32/64). Everyone from Key West to the Panhandle already knew Scott was unpopular with the average Floridian. That doesn't necessarily mean he'd lose a primary election.

Actually, Scott is even on pretty shaky ground with Republicans. His approval rating is only at 49 percent within the GOP; 38 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of him. Here's the key takeaway from the PPP poll: Only 50 percent of Republican primary voters want Scott to be their candidate again next year, compared to 40 percent who would prefer someone else.

Who might that someone else be? Well, it won't be one of the Tallahassee triumvirate of Jeff Atwater, Pam Bondi or Adam Putnam.

Atwater would like to run and has a reputation for being a political giant killer (when he first ran for the state Senate, he upset Bob Butterworth). But Atwater can neither outmaneuver Scott inside the Republican establishment, nor raise enough money to compete with what Scott can spend out of his personal fortune.

Bondi, who has spent much of her time in office tacking even further to the right of Scott, nevertheless trails the governor 49 percent to 25 percent in the PPP poll. Those kinds of numbers put to bed any thought of the telegenic attorney general challenging Scott.

Putnam is the candidate Republicans whisper about most often when daring to consider a mutiny. The agriculture commissioner is a talented politician popular in both Tallahassee and Washington and with both the establishment and rank and file. But Putnam is too respectful of protocol and tradition to entertain the idea of running against Scott. Still, he shouldn't be surprised if some serious Republican heavyweights -- Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Al Cardenas -- approach him about stepping up in 2014.

But it's not in Tallahassee where Republicans might find a viable alternative to Scott. For that, they should look to Tampa Bay. Although none of them would have the resources to keep up with Scott's wallet, there is a roster of possible candidates who could beat Scott and compete with Charlie Crist or Alex Sink in the general election.

First and foremost is Speaker Will Weatherford. The charismatic reformer could quickly raise eight figures for a statewide campaign, while running on a record of real legislative accomplishment. Were Bush and Rubio to line up behind Weatherford, the son-in-law of former House Speaker Allan Bense -- a man they've worked with -- Scott would have a genuine uprising on his hands.

Beyond Weatherford, there are several dark horses who would present unique, almost intellectual, candidacies.

Former state Sen. Paula Dockery, who bowed out early in the 2010 gubernatorial race, is the Cassandra of Republican politics, more right than she's ever been about the challenges facing her party and the state.  Another maverick who should run simply for the sake of having something important to say is Pinellas state Sen. Jack Latvala. Imagine Latvala in a debate with Scott! Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, a close ally of Bush's, could run were he to have the former governor on his side.

However, it's most likely none of these capable pols are even thinking of running for governor in 2014 -- even if they should be.

Someone needs to step up to save the Republican Party of Florida from its Republican governor.

Peter Schorsch, a political consultant based in St. Petersburg, publishes and edits the Florida political blog SaintPetersBlog.com. Readers can contact Schorsch at [email protected].

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