HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (AP) _ The fact that Gov. Rick Scott isn't on the ballot this year isn't stopping Democrats from making him an issue as they try to keep President Barack Obama and Sen. Bill Nelson in office.
Party officials gathered for the Democrats' largest annual fundraiser repeatedly held Scott up as an example of Republican extremism. While Scott isn't up for re-election until 2014, his approval rating is low. Democrats want to take advantage of that by casting guilt by association with Republicans who are running this year.
“Two words that I'll use tonight and for the rest of this campaign: Rick Scott,'' Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said Saturday evening. “We are absolutely convinced that Rick Scott is the face of the tea party, is the voice of the tea party in Florida. He's been speaking for the tea party, and for the next three of four months we're going to make sure that his statements and his method of governance is well discussed.''
Scott was criticized for his education policy, including a proposal that would allow parents to petition to have poor-performing public schools taken over by private charter school managers; his opposition to Obama's health care overhaul; and his support of new voting laws that Democrats say make it more difficult for some people to vote. He was portrayed as an enemy of the middle class.
“The last two years we have been dealing with really an extremist agenda in Tallahassee,'' said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, who is already running for the nomination to challenge Scott in 2014.
Before making an argument against presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz criticized Scott for budget decisions, saying he cut investigators who try to capture pedophiles using the Internet to prey on children as well as money for rape treatment centers.
“The extreme policies pursued by Florida Republicans led by none other than Rick Scott has placed their party at odds with millions of hardworking Floridians. Governor Scott and the Republican Legislature have pushed through some of the most draconian cuts you've seen in the country. Cuts to K through 12 and higher education, the loss of thousands of jobs and important infrastructure by rejecting high speed rail funding,'' she said.
Scott's spokesman said Democrats are ignoring the positive things the governor has done, like increasing school spending by a billion dollars last year, passing a law designed to reduce auto insurance fraud and passing laws aimed at improving the state's economy.
“If that's what the Democrats think is extreme, I don't think anything can satisfy them,'' said Brian Burgess.
And while the focus is on November's election, Alex Sink, who narrowly lost to Scott in 2010 in an election where Republicans far outperformed Democrats, said she is thinking of running for governor again.
“There's an enormous amount of buyers' remorse. I have strangers come up to me and say, `Oh I made a mistake,''' Sink said. “Here we are almost two years away from that campaign and every day I get stopped somewhere _ the Circle K in Thonotosassa _ and people say `Please run again. We need you.'''
She said she will make her decision after the November election.