Gov. Scott spins soft poll numbers his way

mcaputo@miamiherald.comDecember 25, 2013 

Gov. Rick Scott is still losing his re-election bid -- but by less than some expected.

That's according to the campaign's own survey, which shows Scott loses to former Gov. Charlie Crist by 4 percentage points and trails Sen. Bill Nelson by 2 points.

To Scott's Washington advisers, who trumpeted the poll last week, it was a sign of progress.

Whoo-hoo! We're still No. 2!

Bragging about it, however, made little sense to Scott's Florida supporters.

"I don't understand this," said one top Republican, echoing a handful of others. "Why are we telling people we're losing?"

Here's why: Scott's team is playing the expectations game.

The message: Scott is narrowing the gap with Crist.

And it's true. He is and will continue to do so.

Scott has already started spending money on negative ads, bashing Crist a year before the election. It will have an effect. And beyond that, if past major Florida races are any indication, the winner will prevail by just a point, maybe two. The gap will narrow.

But Team Scott didn't get all the "Scott gains on Crist" headlines it wanted.

"Internal Rick Scott poll: Charlie Crist up in Florida," Politico first reported.

The Miami Herald a day later focused on the results from a theoretical Democratic matchup in the poll that showed Crist would wallop Nelson by as many as 13 points.

Broward New Times had a spot of fun in a Twitter post:

"@FLGovScott's internal polls have him losing to everybody. Even that broken stapler on his desk."

Ouch.

So Scott isn't just losing the race. He's losing the expectations game.

One of the most unsettling examples of this for Scott was buried at the bottom of the poll.

When asked "who's best able to handle" job creation, Scott edged Crist by only 2 percentage points in that category.

To recap: Crist left office with an 11.1 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2010. Since taking over at that point, Scott now governs with a 6.4 percent unemployment rate.

Yet Scott, the self-proclaimed jobs governor, only leads Crist by 2 points on job creation?

One would expect Scott to do much better here.

There's a reason Scott's team and the Republican Party of Florida hit the panic button after the Miami Herald-Tampa Bay Times recently published a series matching the actual jobs data with Scott's claims about job creation.

"Of the jobs Scott can influence most, only a fraction now exist. Scott has pledged $266 million in tax breaks and other incentives in return for 45,258 new jobs. But 96 percent of the jobs have yet to materialize, according to state data," the Herald-Times reported.

Team Scott on jobs front

Scott's team pushed back against the Herald-Times in a detailed response. It largely revolves around the premise that the governor should get credit for every single job created in Florida.

But overall employment in Florida started increasing under Crist (just as it collapsed under him) and has steadily but slowly trended upward since the total numbers of jobs bottomed out in January 2010. That increase started a year before Scott took office.

Also, because job losses and gains in Florida are so closely tied to the nation and world's improving economy, there's only so much credit Scott (or any governor) can claim.

And Scott has already made one reversal on his 2010 promise to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Scott first said the 700,000 jobs would be created in addition to forecast job growth. Now he says he'll count forecast job creation.

By his original promise, Scott could fall short. By his modified position, Scott is more on track.

That's one way Scott hopes to win the expectations game -- by changing expectations and then claiming victory.

But right now, Scott's own poll shows voters aren't expecting to give him a second term.

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