Convention Storm

Florida’s Rick Scott, Battered but Unbowed by Politics and Bad Weather

Lauren Ashburn talks to Florida’s governor about the tropical storm that threatens the GOP convention.

Bill Cotterell / AP Photo

Rick Scott is a man with a mission. And this time, it isn’t to toe the Republican Party line.

Despite the fact that Tampa is hosting the party’s convention, and that he is a Republican in charge of a crucial swing state, he has bigger problems heading up the coast.

Any smart pol—from mayors to presidents—knows there is one thing people care about far more than politics: weather. Many a career has been made or broken based on how leaders respond to gale-force winds or snowstorms. With his approval rating in the tank, Scott’s doing what he can not to screw things up as a potentially devastating hurricane threatens both Florida and Mitt Romney’s coronation.

A poll last month shows more than half the voters in the ever-so-ironically titled Sunshine State disapprove of Scott’s performance. Until recently, he was called the country’s most unpopular governor. Fellow Gov. John Kasich in Ohio now wears the badge.

Scott, a former hospital CEO who had never held elective office, needs a jolt to take him out of the political intensive-care unit. Tropical Storm Isaac could be just what the doctor ordered, giving him an unparalleled opportunity at rehabilitation.

When I was chatting with Scott on Sunday morning, he joked about not having to navigate the security obstacles outside the convention hall. But when I began conducting a video interview for my website, he immediately repeated the mantra that he was concerned about the safety of his citizens, not just in Tampa but all over the state. Even when I asked him about the impact on the convention, he refused to address the politics of the situation, doggedly sticking to his public-safety message. This was a man more concerned at the moment with his next election than with Romney’s.

Much of Scott’s unpopularity stems from an austere budget he pushed through last year, including cuts to education and corporate taxes. He’s rejected $2 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail lines. He required state employees to kick in part of their salaries for their own pensions. One in five Florida homeowners are behind on their mortgages. To top it off, unemployment in the state is over 10 percent, well above the national average.

With rifle-toting National Guardsmen already out in force, Scott is well positioned to weather the storm. Clearing the air after a year and a half of political battering may not be as easy.