-By Don Van Natta Jr. and Gary Fineout
June 27, 2011- MIAMI — In the past few weeks, Gov. Rick Scott has traveled around the state extolling the accomplishments of the recent legislative session and promoting his success in pushing Florida down a more conservative, financially sound path.
So why is his approval rating the lowest of any governor in America?
“I don’t think about it,” Mr. Scott said in a brief interview when asked about his 29 percent approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in May. More alarming for the governor: his negative rating has soared from 22 percent in February shortly after he entered office to 57 percent, suggesting that the more Floridians get to know him, the less they like him.
Mr. Scott, however, chalks up the numbers to his agenda. “Everybody’s scared about change,” he said. “I’m going to make the tough decisions because I know, long-term, they pay off. But, you know, short-term, everybody is worried about change.”
The promise of wholesale changes appealed to Florida voters, who overlooked Mr. Scott’s lack of experience and propelled him into the Governor’s Mansion last year as a Tea Party darling. But within six months of Mr. Scott’s swearing-in, many Floridians seem to have soured on the governor, an unflinching former health insurance executive whose leadership style strikes some as remote and uncaring.
Mr. Scott’s sinking popularity has Republican politicians and some strategists worried that his troubles could hamper their chances of tilting the state’s 29 electoral votes back into their column in 2012. President Obama won Florida by 2.8 percentage points in 2008.
Republican Senate and House candidates are also worrying, strategists say, that the governor’s rapidly declining popularity will affect their chances of winning election. And in Miami, two Republican candidates for mayor have distanced themselves from the governor.
State Senator Mike Fasano, Republican of New Port Richey, has verbally tussled with Mr. Scott and his staff. “If the election was held right now, he would have no impact or a negative impact — there’s no question about it,” he said.
Mr. Scott’s unpopularity is mostly rooted in his aggressive push for large cuts in the budget and the public-sector work force, his decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project, and the dismissive and even abrasive way he deals with those who disagree with him or ask a lot of questions.
He also promised to create many jobs, and it has been the mantra of his tenure so far. But the state’s unemployment rate, down from a high of 11.9 percent, is still at 10.6 percent, one of the highest rates in the country. Despite the governor’s efforts to woo out-of-state corporations to the Sunshine State, the companies have not come in droves.
The economy also continues to reel from a shell-shocked real estate market and a push by some national Republicans to revamp Medicare, a frightening prospect for any Florida politician, given the age of so many of its residents.
“Scott is still not well known in Florida,” said Bob Graham, a former governor and United States senator. “Everything he does is somewhat of a new revelation on what his positions are going to be. And so far, many Floridians have found the things he has done highly objectionable.”