Many prominent Florida Republicans realize that Rick Scott’s negative ratings haven’t yet come down despite persistent attempts to redefine the Governor’s character, and demeanor. Scott’s negatives to the Florida electorate aren’t moving and thus chatter has intensified in Republican circles about a potential primary.
The two names most prominently mentioned are both cabinet officers; Adam Putnam and Jeff Atwater. Putnam was at one time the number three Republican in the Congressional leadership but his pragmatism eventually cost him with colleagues. He ran for Commissioner of Agriculture and easily beat Scott Maddox. Jeff Atwater benefited from the defections of several disloyal Democrats in southeast Florida in his CFO victory over Lorrane Ausley. Some of these same Democrats raised money for Dean Cannon and Chris Dorworth, leading to concerns that they may hedge their bets if Atwater ran for Governor.
Despite Scott’s numbers being permanently underwater and the desire of many GOP insiders to primary him, taking on a wealthy incumbent Governor who has given Tallahassee based business, insurance and school “choice” lobbyists everything they want will be nearly impossible in a primary, despite the perceived popularity of Putnam and Atwater. Furthering this point, Scott’s numbers among conservative Republicans, who dominate an August primary remain solid. While the GOP has a history of nominating more “electable” candidates out of statewide primaries (Charlie Crist in 2006 for Governor and 2002 for AG, Mel Martinez for Senate in 2004) recent years have given us more polarizing figures like Scott, Pam Bondi and Connie Mack IV. In the most recent statewide primary, the most electable Republican, George LeMeiux did not even make it to August.
The GOP electorate in Florida has become more conservative and less pragmatic. Scott’s money advantage and conservative bonafides make him tough to beat in a primary. Both Atwater and Putnam would have to weigh the opportunity cost of giving up a spot on the cabinet and an inside track to the 2018 nomination for what might be a futile challenge. We know politics can turn on a dime, but still it is difficult at this point in time to really see Scott being defeated in a primary.
The bottom line is that despite almost constant chatter from politicos, Rick Scott will more than likely be the GOP nominee next year. That is good news for Democrats who will seek to regain the Governor’s mansion for the first time 16 years in 2014.