Gov. Rick Scott used his third State of the State address Tuesday to issue a spirited defense of his first two years in office, even as the speech capped off a midterm pivot aimed at buoying his popularity ahead of the 2014 elections.
Underscoring an increase in jobs, a drop in state debt and other encouraging economic news, Scott portrayed a rebounding Florida and implicitly criticized his predecessor, and possible rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist.
"This is now the third time I have had the opportunity to address you to report on the state of the Great State of Florida," Scott said. "And after two years of hard work, this update can be summed up in two words: It's working."
Scott returned to the "It's Working" refrain several times in the speech, and staffers manning the governor's Twitter account created a hashtag with the phrase, leaving little doubt about the theme of the address -- also entitled "It's Working."
Scott didn't use the address to unveil any new initiatives, though he did tout his proposed $2,500 across-the-board raise for teachers and a proposal to do away with the sales tax on manufacturing equipment.
In addition to laying out a case that included a three-point drop in the unemployment rate and a drop of $2 billion in debt, Scott pointed to the economy he "inherited" from Crist as the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat considers mounting a run for his old job in 2014.
"Two years ago, Florida was losing jobs and many Florida families were losing their dreams. ... The shorts-sighted policies of borrowing on our future had led to disaster," Scott said.
An awkward moment, though, came when Scott defended his decision to support an expansion of Medicaid, part of the federal health-care bill reviled by Republicans, for at least three years. His remarks came one day after the House GOP confirmed its opposition to the move.
"I concluded that for the three years the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care," Scott said.
Legislative Democrats erupted in applause and cheers as Scott made his case, while Republicans largely sat stone-faced, one of the few times that the GOP did not lead an ovation for the governor.
After the speech, House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, seized on Scott's remarks to try to press Republicans to approve expansion.
"I think that he issued a challenge to the Legislature, whether it be the Senate or the House, that we certainly need to expand Medicaid," Thurston said.
The party itself was less forgiving. Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant accused Scott of "desperately trying to reverse course on his toxic Tea Party agenda.
"The truth is, Scott has the wrong priorities for Florida and is hurting middle class families," she said in a statement issued by the party.