When Gov. Rick Scott announces new unemployment numbers this morning there's little doubt he will continue to insist that his policies have helped the state's economy recover.
It will cap off what the Scott team will view as another successful week - and a sign that the 2014 election campaign is turning their way.
Part of that perception will be tied to the release of a new poll this week that saw Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist nearly tied 10 months before Election Day (and on-going rumblings about the state of the Crist campaign.)
Lost in the discussion of the robocall poll, however, was this stark fact: That 51 percent of those polled disapproved of the job Scott has done as governor. This is a trend that has remained firmly constant since 2011.
And the few short weeks of this year have already shown that Scott is going to find himself continually confronted with a lot of other issues that have nothing to do with the state's unemployment rate.
Already this year there has been a lawsuit seeking to overturn Florida's ban on gay marriage. Proposals to raise the minimum wage. The likely addition to the ballot of a constitutional amendment that would approve the use of medical marijuana. A protest against the renewal of an effort to remove potential non-U.S. citizens from the voter rolls.
If anyone had any doubts that the 2014 campaign is already in full swing this should end it.
This is not to say that the timing of all these events are driven entirely by Scott's re-election bid. (Although one of the groups that has been bashing Scott is part of an effort to defeat him.)
But between now and November you can rest assured that groups and organizations on opposite sides of Scott will continue to find ways to draw attention to their differences.
And Democrats challenging Scott _ including Crist _ have made sure to note these policy differences. Crist went so far as to apologize for his past opposition to gay marriage when he was a Republican.
So the point is clear: A counter-offensive is firmly underway. And now, and into the annual legislative session, and through the summer, there will be constant reminders - and attempts to earn media coverage about Scott and his positions in the hope that it will resonate come November.
The question remains whether or not Scott and his team can successfully negotiate the hurdles that remain in the way, especially since Scott has begun to move back to the avoid-the-media. avoid the questions, remain on message counter-punch that so characterized his 2010 run. (Quick: When was the last time Scott went before an editorial board? Had a press availability that lasted more than eight to 10 minutes?)
This won't be a complete re-run of the 2010 race, largely because Scott is now the insider, the one guiding the government. That's not stopped Scott and his team from trying of course: They've ditched the compromise talk about 'Obamacare," they blame President Barack Obama on issues such as flood insurance or the Everglades, and Scott's surrogates at the Republican Party of Florida are making sure to link Crist and Obama at every turn.
Still here's some of the key remaining hurdles between now and November:
Scott's legislative agenda: With just weeks away from the start of the 2014 session Scott's legislative agenda has been relatively light. The main policy initiatives he's publicly advocated have been primarily tied to the budget.
These include his desire for a rollback of automobile registration fees and a 10-day sales tax holiday. He's calling for spending on environmental programs and boosting child protection efforts. Scott will likely call for some type of increased spending on education although the math - and announced spending priorities so far - would render it highly unlikely the governor could increase education spending as much as he did last year.
Beyond that there has been very little signs that Scott plans to do much in the way of serious policy initiatives. So the strategy here seems to hope for a few wins that register with rank-and-file Floridians and try not to do anything else that stirs people up.
The question, as always, is whether Scott's allies in Legislature will be content to follow that lead. The answer right now appears to be largely yes, whether it's taking the position of deferring any serious resolution of gambling issues by leaving it up to voters, or avoiding any serious debate again this year on the contentious topic of Medicaid expansion. Case in point: The Republicans who control the Legislature have not made much noise about the ongoing problems with Florida's troubled website/unemployment compensation system.
But legislators don't view themselves as automatons who are there to do only what the governor wants. They will file bills, and pursue items, that could be at cross-purposes with the smooth sailing that Scott and his team want heading toward the election. It would be hard to imagine, for example, that Scott would want an alimony reform bill on his desk again this year following last's year polarizing debate and what appears to be a sizable gender gap problem among voters.
Rebranded, rebooted Rick Scott: Last week the Scott team announced that Melissa Sellers, the communications director for Scott, was changing jobs to that of campaign manager. There are also reports of plans to quickly build up a staff and there was a shuffling of positions from the Republican Party of Florida to the campaign.
So what does this really mean? On the first part, it was the most overt sign that some of the masterminds of Scott's successful 2010 campaign - including pollster/consultant Tony Fabrizio - will not have as prominent a role this time around. During her time in the governor's office Sellers was a loyal partner with chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth and played a much more prominent role in helping guide policy than previous communications directors.
But it's also a sign that Scott himself will have much more command over the decision-making and doesn't need a lot of outsiders this time around.
This is not an unexpected development. Scott's biography shows time and time again that a lack of experience in a particular area does not stop him from pushing ahead, most notably when he was a Dallas lawyer who decided to go in on a business deal to buy two hospitals and wound up running one of the nation's largest health care chains.
The danger here is that neither Scott, nor Sellers, nor Hollingsworth have really run a statewide campaign in a place as diverse as Florida. The strategy so far appears includes utilizing a sizable cash advantage to pummel Crist or whoever the nominee winds up being, and use precise microtargeting to identify and motivate voters on the right and the center who could help on Election Day.
Another part of the effort is the slow, yet methodical attempt to reintroduce Scott as just an ordinary, yet successful person who Floridians can trust to understand their economic fears. Scott let people know during his first campaign that he spent time in public housing. Now Scott has slowly added more details, including that his mother nearly gave him up for adoption, that the family car was repossessed. It's true that Scott appears more comfortable than before, but he still has trouble diverging from his printed talking points. This still makes some of his appearances and speeches appear robotic. Of course, the great thing is that this is not a problem when it comes to television commercials.
Exodus and embarrassment: This is not a prediction, but with a re-election campaign comes a renewed focus by opponents and the media to look for any traces of embarrassing disclosures or borderline unethical behavior. Scott has already gone through multiple chief of staffs, several education commissioners, and other agency heads that have caused varying degrees of collateral damage. There is always the chance that something bubbles up to the surface just months or weeks ahead of the election. Political operatives know that the timing of a disclosure can be just as important as the information itself.
As previously stated no one should ever underestimate or doubt Scott's resolve. He resisted any talk of leaving office after one term and he made it clear he was willing to raise and spend large amounts of money to keep his job. If Crist is the Democratic challenger than the Scott team will have gotten the nominee they wanted all along. The expectation is that despite tensions between Scott and other prominent Republicans that they will remain united against their common foe.
Clearly Scott's situation appears to be better than it was just a few months ago. But it would still be premature to for anyone to say that victory is certain. There is still time, and plenty of opportunities, for things to fall apart.