From the birth of a grandson to the death of his mother to recollections of a Christmas without presents and an apartment with camping equipment for furniture, Gov. Rick Scott loaded Tuesday’s annual State of the State address with personal details and anecdotes.
Scott’s campaign-style speech used the slogan “Let’s keep working” eight times and urged lawmakers to make Florida into the “land of 700,000 new jobs” — themes unsurprising to anyone who has followed Scott’s jobs-focused political career.
But Scott also tried to put a human face on what even he acknowledged can be robotic message discipline.
“I know that reporters get tired of me constantly talking about jobs when they want to ask other questions. I know that some people in the room think I’m too singularly focused on Florida’s economy. Well, all I can tell you is that we’re all a product of our own experiences in life,” Scott said.
“I’ve seen what happens to families who struggle for a job. I’ve had Christmas without presents. I don’t want any of our people to ever feel stuck in those situations,” Scott said, drawing more than half a minute of applause.
“I didn’t start caring about jobs when I ran a company. I started caring about jobs when I saw my father lose his,” Scott continued.
Scott is a multimillionaire businessman who spent more than $70 million of his own money on his 2010 race and has been depicted by Democrats as a heartless corporate raider. Scott in the past has mentioned his childhood in public housing and his start in business running a doughnut shop — stories he recounted again in the state of the state address.
But Republican consultant Brian Hughes said Tuesday’s speech stood out.
“The governor’s speech clearly was the most personal I’ve ever heard him give and it’s good to see because his story is compelling,” said Hughes, who supports Scott but is not connected to his campaign. “You can run through all the data — unemployment down, all the various debt reductions, all the various things that we do as data points — but it doesn’t connect with people the way a personal narrative does.”
Scott faces a tough 2014 re-election fight, trailing in most polls against likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor known for his retail politicking skills and ability to connect on a personal level with voters.
Crist led Scott by 8 points in a January poll by Quinnipiac University. The poll found only 38 percent of Florida voters had a favorable opinion of Scott, while 45 percent viewed him unfavorably. Crist was viewed favorably by 45 percent and unfavorably by 37 percent. A University of Florida poll last month gave Crist a 14-point edge over Scott in understanding “problems of people like me.”
Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a former Democratic Senator who attended Tuesday’s speech, said he sensed political considerations in Scott’s decision to emphasize his personal history.
“I think he’s telling a personal narrative, which he didn’t really do during his first campaign,” Aronberg said. “You have to believe his advisers told him to emphasize his bio because of the likeability gap in the polls.”
Scott campaign manager Melissa Sellers accompanied Scott on Monday when he went to the House chamber to rehearse his speech, the Tampa Bay Times reported. A Scott campaign spokesman didn’t elaborate Tuesday on what role campaign personnel had in preparing the speech.
Former House Republican leader Adam Hasner of Boca Raton, who attended Tuesday’s speech, said Scott should continue emphasizing his personal history in the campaign.
“He needs to tell that story,” Hasner said. “When he told the story of how he got to where he is, that connects with working Floridians and it shows that he cares about creating jobs and making Florida the best place to live, work and enjoy.”