TALLAHASSEE – Florida Democrats think they’ve found what it takes to win in 2012: Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Over and over again, Democrats gathering for the state party’s annual fundraising dinner Saturday mentioned Scott as a key to victory, citing his 29 percent approval rating and the far right agenda they believe is turning off Floridians.
After a dismal 2010 election in which Democrats lost the governorship, a U.S. Senate seat, three Cabinet positions, and seats in Congress and the Legislature, they feel like the political pendulum is swinging back as Sen. Bill Nelson and President Barack Obama seek re-election.
“They have moved to the extreme right. The tea party seems to be dictating the drive away from the middle, from which they have typically found their success,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. “We have a great chance this year to occupy that center, and I think that’s where wins are made.”
Voters, clearly upset with the economy, took their anger out on Democrats last year. Democrats, though, think Republicans took the message too far and, instead of just focusing on the economy, passed anti-abortion, pro-gun and other laws that they think don’t resonate with mainstream voters. While the economy is still struggling, Democrats are pointing fingers at Republicans for policies they say hurt the working class.
“In Rick Scott’s budget that passed in this last session, he and the Republican-controlled Legislature got rid of thousands of jobs for working-class Floridians,” Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also chairs the Democratic National Committee, told Democratic activists. “This means teachers and firefighters, police officers, nurses and so many others will get pink slips during fragile economic times.”
Scott’s office dismisses the argument that he will be a factor in the 2012 elections.
“We still believe that it’s all about the economy, and that’s his focus. It has been his focus and it will continue to be his focus,” said Scott spokesman Brian Burgess. “They can try to make it about Rick Scott if they want to, but we believe it’s going to be about the economy.”
The point that Democrats are making, though, is that Republicans have not just made it about the economy.
“They decided that restricting choice and cutting Planned Parenthood is at the top of their legislative agenda,” Wasserman Schultz said. “The Republican Legislature offered 18 bills – 18 bills! – to restrict a woman’s right to choose. And with their attack on Planned Parenthood they also tried to deny many women access to important tests like pap smears and breast cancer screenings.”
Democratic strategist David Beattie agrees that Republicans have gone too far to the right and thinks that will be a factor in 2012.
“Governors elected to fix the economy have gone pretty far beyond,” Beattie said. “Voters in Florida and a lot of these other swing states are saying, ‘Wait, that’s not what we elected you for.'”