Two words from Tony Fabrizo spell bad news for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney: 'I'm in." That is, Fabrizio is in with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, with whom he has been in talks for months.
Fabrizio, one of the most well-respected pollsters in Republican circles, is widely credited for being the man who did the politically impossible: He oversaw a campaign that bested GOP establishment candidate Bill McCollum and elected Rick Scott governor of Florida. (A few moments after we wondered when Fabrizio, would join Perry's team, Politico coincidentally reported sources say he has).
Fabrizio has been in talks with the campaign since and before Perry's disastrous performance at the Republican Party of Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll and debate. Just after the event, Perry sources had told people that Fabrizio was signing on. But Fabrizio, obviously, hadn't.
Fabrizio isn't the only Rick Scott man on Perry's team. It has hired ad-men Nelson Warfield and Curt Anderson. Along with Fabrizio, they're among the most adept at turning the crosstabs of polls in political messages that kneecap opponents.
But Rick Perry is no Rick Scott. Scott's stumbles were all in his business past, and he could overcome them in a tea-party electorate thirsting for outsiders. Perry's stumbles were on the campaign trail, televised to millions, and he's a career pol. Scott could buy his way into frontrunner contention in just one state. It's impossible to do that unless you're a billionaire (paging Michael Bloomberg?).
Also, Perry's doing badly in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. Perry's best hopes lie in South Carolina, where Romney and Herman Cain are leading there as well, and then Florida. But doing badly in the first three states making winning South Carolina tougher. And doing badly in the first four states, make it tougher to win in Florida, where Perry is doing badly as well.
The real test could start as early as tomorrow, when Perry's opponents expect he'll start advertising on television. TV ads (like televised primary and caucus winners) drive the electorate, especially in Florida. So consider everything to date to be like pre-season.
And there's the question of what happens to Perry's current pollster, Mike Baselice, and his chief campaign advisor, Dave Carney. Will there be too many coaches for team Perry?
Regardless, Fabrizio, Warfield and Anderson bring some badly needed non-Texas talent to the Austin-heavy campaign of Perry. The Scott tri-fecta sets up an interesting dynamic with Romney's de facto political guru, Stuart Stevens, who was a message and ad man for former Sen. Mel Martinez and former Gov. Charlie Crist, until Crist's campaign for Senate fell apart.
Fabrizio has highly detailed knowledge of Florida, having polled the state consistently for about two years. The Republican Party of Florida has been paying him to poll on behalf of Scott and state Republicans in general. So chances are, he already has message-tested the weaknesses and strengths of the various Republican candidates.
If you love or hate Rick Scott as governor, there’s one man who deserves a lion’s share of the credit or blame: Tony Fabrizio.
A cigar-smoking data-crunching pollster, Fabrizio is the person Scott insiders point to as being the brains behind the Republican’s improbable transformation from political nobody to governor of the nation’s most important swing state.
Fabrizio’s role as Scott’s pollster and strategist didn’t end with the governor’s election. He still plots strategy, hones the governor’s message and polls for Scott by way of the Republican Party of Florida, which has paid him more than $183,000 since Election Day.
“During the transition, there was a belief that we’re here to govern and politics is over,” said Fabrizio. “Well, politics is never over. Now we have to think a lot more about the big picture. And there are a lot more opportunities.”
Fabrizio, 51, is all strategy, all the time.
A Brooklyn native who grew up in Long Island, he loves the game of politics, intellectual combat, the science of polling and the art of harnessing and shaping public opinion. A recent Miami Beach transplant, his company, Fabrizio McLaughlin and Associates, remains headquartered outside Washington.
Scott counts Fabrizio as a trusted friend who “tells you what he thinks. Not what he thinks you want to hear,” Scott said.
“He’s a straight shooter. If he was a physician and you had a disease and you were going to die, his answer would be: ‘You know, you’re going to die,’ ” Scott said with a chuckle. “He wouldn’t say, ‘Well, there’s a 5 percent chance of this.’ He would say you have a problem. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything.”