Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign asked Florida Governor Rick Scott to tone down his statements heralding improvements in the state’s economy because they clash with the presumptive Republican nominee’s message that the nation is suffering under President Barack Obama, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Scott, a Republican, was asked to say that the state’s jobless rate could improve faster under a Romney presidency, according to the people, who asked not to be named.
What’s unfolding in Florida highlights a dilemma for the Romney campaign: how to allow Republican governors to take credit for economic improvements in their states while faulting Obama’s stewardship of the national economy. Republican governors in Ohio, Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin also have highlighted improving economies.
Scott should follow the advice of the Romney campaign and it won’t undermine his own message, said Mac Stipanovich, a political strategist and lobbyist in Florida.
“This is one of those situations where you could have it both ways and there’s enough truth in it that it would resonate,” Stipanovich said. “It would be better if everybody was singing from the same hymnal.”
Lane Wright, a Scott spokesman, issued a statement disputing that a Romney official had asked for the governor’s message to be changed. Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an e-mail that Romney frequently praises governors “for their ability to overcome the job-stifling policies of the Obama administration.”
Romney’s campaign is eager to sell its economy message in Florida, one of the most competitive electoral battlegrounds, where the past three presidential races were decided by 5 percentage points or less. Obama leads Romney, 46 percent to 42 percent, in a Quinnipiac University poll released today, a shift from May when the Republican was in the lead, 47 percent to 41 percent.
A Romney adviser made the request this week to Scott’s staff after press releases from the governor’s re-election campaign and Internet messages from the Florida Chamber of Commerce trumpeted the state’s drop to 8.6 percent unemployment rate in May from 8.7 percent in April, the people said. The national unemployment rate is 8.2 percent.
Scott’s news release said the jobless rate had dropped 11 consecutive months in Florida and asked supporters to “spread the news” on Facebook, Twitter and by e-mailing their friends.
Romney hasn’t campaigned with Scott, a first-term governor, whose approval rating is 39 percent, according to a poll yesterday from Quinnipiac, in Hamden, Connecticut. That’s down from 41 percent on May 24.
Romney’s staff has concluded there’s no benefit in appearing with Scott, said two campaign advisers who asked for anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter.
The state Republican party ran a television ad in March crediting Scott, who is a year and a half into a four-year term, for drops in the unemployment rate.
“Companies are hiring, expanding, putting more Floridians to work,” the ad narrator said. “Florida’s unemployment rate continues to get better.”
Florida’s jobless rate was 11.1 percent in December 2010 before Scott took office and 8.2 percent two years earlier when Obama was sworn-in.
“The first time I saw that ad I initially thought it was an Obama ad,” said Brad Coker, managing director of the Washington-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research. “They’ll have to tamp it down.”
Two months later, Crossroads GPS, a super-political action committee that is supporting Romney, was on television in Florida with a spot featuring a female character saying her kids “can’t find jobs.”
“Unemployment Rate Stays High,” says a mock newspaper headline in the ad.
In Ohio, Governor John Kasich has been publicly touting the state’s falling unemployment rate and 75,700 jobs added during the past year. Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, said the Romney campaign hasn’t asked the governor to change that message.
Kasich’s comments may appear to conflict with Romney’s. The two Republicans campaigned at an April 27 event at Otterbein University in suburban Columbus where Romney described a difficult job market for graduating seniors and Kasich talked about the state’s unfilled jobs.
Asked about the conflict after a May 17 speech in Columbus, Kasich told reporters that although Ohio’s economy is improving, “uncertainty” from the president’s policies on health care, taxes and regulation “puts wind in our face” that would change if Romney were elected.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on June 19 called Michigan “the comeback state of the United States,” noting its jobless rate dropped to 8.5 percent in May from 14.2 percent in August 2009.
“We still need to do better,” Snyder said. “The whole country needs to do better.”
Geralyn Lasher, a spokeswoman for Snyder, said the Romney campaign hasn’t asked the governor to downplay economic improvements.
In Virginia, Governor Robert McDonnell’s Opportunity Virginia political action committee aired an ad in April that touts gains in the economy since he took office in 2010.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said economic progress was a key component of his successful defense against a June 5 recall election. Walker pointed to the state’s unemployment rate, which was 6.8 percent in May, down from 7.7 percent when he took office in January 2011.
In Florida, signs of a sagging economy remain.
The 18 percent of Florida mortgages in foreclosure or 90 days past due is the highest rate in the country, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Commercial buildings remain vacant across the state.
“Until you start seeing physical signs of those things starting to fill up again, I just don’t think people are going to believe a government statistic that life is getting better for them,” said Coker, the Mason-Dixon polling executive.
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