Whose Economy Is It?

Florida’s Rick Scott and other Obama-bashing GOP governors lay claim to an improving economy as they seek reelection.

Outgoing Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, shakes hands with new Gov. Rick Scott after his swearing in at the inauguration at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Fla. on Tuesday, January 4, 2011. 
National Journal
By Beth Reinhard
Sept. 2, 2013, 2 a.m.

A na­tion­al gath­er­ing of fisc­al con­ser­vat­ives was the ideal set­ting for Flor­ida Gov. Rick Scott to test-drive the cent­ral mes­sage of his reelec­tion cam­paign: The state’s eco­nomy is im­prov­ing on my watch after fizz­ling un­der my Obama-friendly pre­de­cessor, Charlie Crist.

The num­bers seem to back him up. Since Scott’s elec­tion in the Re­pub­lic­an wave of 2010, un­em­ploy­ment dropped from 11.1 per­cent to 7.1 per­cent, and 370,000 jobs have been cre­ated. Un­der Crist, the Re­pub­lic­an-turned-Demo­crat ex­pec­ted to an­nounce his comeback cam­paign this fall, un­em­ploy­ment climbed from 3.5 per­cent to 11.1 per­cent while 832,000 jobs dis­ap­peared.

“Con­ser­vat­ive, pro-growth policies are work­ing in Flor­ida, and we have a lot to brag about,” Scott told an en­thu­si­ast­ic audi­ence Fri­day of about 1,500 people at the Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity sum­mit in Or­lando.

Mak­ing the case to the na­tion’s largest swing state over the next 15 months will be more chal­len­ging, hinging on wheth­er Scott can con­vince voters that he — and not Pres­id­ent Obama — de­serves the cred­it for the re­bound in the eco­nomy. Scott is among nine Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors run­ning for reelec­tion in 2014 in states car­ried by Obama who will be mak­ing sim­il­arly self-serving pitches. With a fa­vor­able rat­ing of only 40 per­cent, Scott is a top tar­get for Demo­crats, along with Rick Snyder in Michigan, Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania, and Paul LePage in Maine.

Eco­nom­ists say it’s com­plic­ated to as­sign blame or cred­it to politi­cians for cycles in the eco­nomy, com­pound­ing the pres­sure on Scott and oth­er gov­ernors to make a per­suas­ive pitch. One of the biggest ques­tions for voters to settle in 2014 will be: Whose eco­nomy is it? Bol­ster­ing Scott’s claims and giv­ing him an ad­vant­age over his coun­ter­parts in Michigan and Pennsylvania is that Flor­ida’s un­em­ploy­ment rate has dipped be­low the na­tion­al av­er­age, the second biggest drop in the coun­try.

Scott as­serts he cre­ated a more fer­tile cli­mate for busi­nesses by cut­ting reg­u­la­tions and taxes, and he has branded his ad­min­is­tra­tion and cam­paign with the “It’s work­ing” slo­gan.

“Busi­ness growth and the turn­around in the eco­nomy cer­tainly have a lot to do with how a state is gov­erned,” said Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­an Chair­man Lenny Curry. “It couldn’t be clear­er that the pres­id­ent has done noth­ing to fig­ure out and to re­duce our de­fi­cit and spend­ing prob­lem.”

But Crist, who has been meet­ing with poll­sters and cam­paign man­agers this sum­mer, ar­gues that voters will neither blame him for the re­ces­sion nor cred­it Scott with the re­cov­ery.

“I think every­body real­izes that we had a glob­al eco­nom­ic melt­down, and the no­tion that a gov­ernor can stop that is kind of silly,” said Crist, who headed the state from 2007 to 2010. “I un­der­stand that Rick Scott might want to take cred­it for the na­tion­al eco­nom­ic turn­around, but I think that’s more to do with what the pres­id­ent and his ad­min­is­tra­tion have done as well as the hard­work­ing people of Flor­ida and Amer­ica.”

Demo­crat­ic con­sult­ant Steve Schale, who is ad­vising Crist and helped Obama carry the state twice, said, “If voters were go­ing to give Scott all the cred­it for the eco­nomy, he wouldn’t be trail­ing an un­an­nounced can­did­ate for gov­ernor by double di­gits.” (A June poll by Quin­nipi­ac Uni­versity found Crist lead­ing Scott, 47 per­cent to 37 per­cent.)

Not only are Demo­crats bra­cing to de­fend Pres­id­ent Obama’s eco­nom­ic policies in 2014, they are also gear­ing up to pro­sec­ute Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors for ex­acer­bat­ing gaps between the rich and the poor. The line of at­tack against Scott mim­ics the pop­u­list ral­ly­ing cry that the Demo­crat­ic Party used to de­feat an­oth­er mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee Mitt Rom­ney in 2012.

“Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors like Rick Scott might try to claim cred­it for a na­tion­al re­cov­ery, but work­ing fam­il­ies have paid deeply for their failed top-down eco­nom­ic policies that re­ward the wealth­i­est and well-con­nec­ted at the ex­pense of middle-class job cre­ation and in­vest­ments in edu­ca­tion and in­fra­struc­ture,” said Danny Kan­ner, a spokes­man for the Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation.

In an­oth­er cam­paign re­dux, Scott is ex­pec­ted to re-lit­ig­ate the case against Obama’s eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus spend­ing in his first year in of­fice. Without men­tion­ing Crist by name, Scott on Fri­day as­sailed his pre­de­cessor for lit­er­ally em­bra­cing Obama and his policy with a hug at a 2009 rally — a power­ful im­age used by Re­pub­lic­an Marco Ru­bio to de­feat Crist in the 2010 Sen­ate race. Demo­crats note that the stim­u­lus money saved teach­ing and law-en­force­ment jobs and that Scott kept about $370 mil­lion of fed­er­al money in his first budget.

Sean Snaith, dir­ect­or of the Uni­versity of Cent­ral Flor­ida’s In­sti­tute for Eco­nom­ic Com­pet­it­ive­ness, said gov­ernors typ­ic­ally wield less con­trol over the eco­nomy than the pres­id­ent, who can lower in­terest rates, af­fect fin­an­cial mar­kets, and run de­fi­cits to try to stim­u­late the eco­nomy. In Flor­ida, where the eco­nomy is largely driv­en by the real-es­tate mar­ket, the hous­ing bubble cre­ated severe highs and lows.

“Busi­ness cycles are much more power­ful than any politi­cian or any policy, so by and large they are at the mercy of eco­nomy, even more so at the state and loc­al level,” Snaith said. “It is fair to blame Crist be­cause the hous­ing mar­ket went down when he was gov­ernor and cred­it Scott be­cause now it’s im­prov­ing? The an­swer prob­ably de­pends on how much money they spend on ad­vert­ising.”

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