ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott has only been in office for nine months, but already his business-minded, competitive eye is trained on the two-term governor just a few states to the west.
“I’m going to kick Rick Perry’s …” said Scott in an interview with The Daily Caller, before trailing off. “More jobs in Florida!” he said with a laugh that implied a serious but friendly competitiveness with the job-creating Texas governor. “He’s going to beat me? He’s not going to win.”
The Perry-Scott rivalry was put on national display at last Thursday’s Fox News-Google debate in Orlando. The Texan used his first question to throw a light jab at the Florida governor.
“Rick Scott’s sitting right over there and he and I compete every day, trying to get jobs into our states,” said Perry. He ended by touting Texas’ top economic status, quipping, “We plan on keeping it that way, Rick.”
The friendly jab reinforced what Scott made quite clear to TheDC. Perry may be competing against eight other presidential candidates, but he is also racing against someone else. Rick Scott may not be running for president, but he views Perry as competitor number one.
Still, Rick Scott, who is expecting his first grandchild soon, has a soft spot for Texas: for its economy, its relatively low unemployment, and its low taxes. (RELATED: Scott outlines vision for GOP nominee)
“I lived in Texas for a short time,” he said at one point. “And the second day there you start bragging about the darn state. We ought to be bragging about Florida!”
It’s the Lone Star State’s business-friendly environment that he seeks to emulate.
“They’ve created an attitude that says, ‘we like business people,’” said Scott. “You’re not going to build private-sector jobs if you don’t like business people. So that’s step one. Then they’ve gone and said, ‘How do we keep our taxes as low as possible?”
After talking with Scott, it’s clear his mindset is completely oriented around business. In fact, Scott believes the only difference between running a corporation and running a state government is that there’s “a lot more media” in government.
“If you’re going to be successful, you better have a goal, you better find really good people, better understand where all the money’s coming from,” he said. “And you better measure the living daylights out of it.”
High unemployment and a hostile business environment weren’t the only problems the tea party governor faced after taking office. He also had to fix a broken state Republican Party that hadn’t supported him and that had been damaged by the scandal surrounding its former chairman, Jim Greer, cleanse Tallahassee of the mark left by his wildly unpopular predecessor Charlie Crist, and work with legislators he had no relationship with. (RELATED: Herman Cain wins Florida straw poll)
“It gets easier every month because you get to meet people, and you understand what their goals are,” said Scott. “So I spent a lot of time doing that. The hardest thing was just not knowing some of the legislators. But the positive side of that is I can follow my agenda.”
Scott has essentially made job creation, along with creating a friendly business environment, his number top priorities since taking office. Ask him what he considers to be his greatest accomplishment thus far and he says Florida’s steadily falling unemployment rate.
“We created jobs every month but one,” said Scott. “So we’re always second or third. Texas is number one, still.”
“[W]e completely changed the direction of the state, from being perceived as a tough business climate, to now absolutely open for business,” he added. “We are absolutely open for business.”
But while Scott may not hesitate to talk about what Florida can learn from Texas, he’s less forthright when it comes to discussing the presidential candidates that have been barnstorming his state lately.
When asked about Perry’s suggestion that Social Security is a ponzi scheme, Scott passed up the opportunity to criticize the Texan’s characterization of a program so vital to Floridians. Instead, he merely said he hopes the minor controversy will be the catalyst for a long-delayed national discussion on the issue.
“Whether you’re talking about Social Security or the state pensions funds, or whatever … we need to make sure they’re viable,” said Scott. “And we need to have a discussion about how to make them viable.”
“Each of them ought to answer the question, how they would do it,” he added, referring to the presidential contenders.
Yet there’s one hot topic that Scott cannot not so easily refuse to comment on. Before running for office, Scott was the self-made face of the opposition to President Barack Obama’s push for health care reform.
In 2009, he funded and starred in a $5 million ad campaign and web effort to push back on the administration’s reform efforts. That alone, could have an enormous impact on how he views the other presumed Republican presidential frontrunner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Romney’s own health care reform legislation has been the cause of continuous strife and contention during his campaign. However, despite Scott’s past of publicly opposing government-run health care, he refrained from directly criticizing Romney.
“With me in regards to candidates it’s, ‘do you know what somebody stands for, and do you know why they made those decisions?’” said Scott. “As long as people know how a candidate thinks about something and why they did certain things, that’s all we should expect.”
“He made a decision,” Scott added, referring to Romney. “In Massachusetts, he thought it was the right thing to do at the time.”
But don’t take that to mean Scott is all of a sudden soft on government-run health care, or the Romney-certified system in Massachusetts.
“It’s not different from what’s going to happen nationally,” said Scott. “We won’t be able to afford it, and ultimately, we will have to ration care.”
For now, Scott gets to take a break from being the anti-Obamacare campaigner to focus on his agenda, and his own race to beat Rick Perry. In the meantime, he’ll watch presidential candidates vie for voters in his state and court his endorsement, as well as what promises to be a heated race to unseat Florida’s Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Scott says he has no plans to endorse in the Republican primary anytime soon and that he’s confident that Nelson’s re-election chances are slim given Floridians disenchantment with President Obama.
He also thinks Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would be “a great pick for vice president.”
As far as his own position goes, there’s talk around the Sunshine State that Charlie Crist may run for governor as a Democrat in 2014. But Scott’s not worried.
“You’ve got to be known for what you’re running on, what principles,” he told TheDC. “So I don’t know if he can be successful doing that or not.”
“I’m very comfortable with that — that my game plan of getting the state back to work is working, and it’ll continue to work while I’m in office,” he added.
Rick Perry, look out.