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The Adam Hollingsworth effect: Rick Scott's still-bad poll numbers, gator-hunt fail


The speeches from Adam Hollingsworth were a sports-laden call to put points on the board.

As the newly tapped chief of staff for Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Hollingsworth was deeply troubled by his new boss' persistently bad poll numbers in the summer of 2012. In two years' time, Scott would be up for re-election. And the polls indicated the governor would lose.

"If it's halftime in a football game and we're in the locker room, do you think we'd be winning or not?"  Hollingsworth asked rhetorically, according to two staffers who heard the same speech at two separate meetings.

"If I was the coach and we had these numbers, I wouldn't be patting people on the back," Hollingsworth reportedly said. "I'd be throwing my chair against the damn wall."

Well, Coach Hollingsworth, it's the third quarter.

And since he began leading Team Scott, the governor's approval rating has worsened, according to numerous polls. Most recently, this week, liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling's survey indicated that Scott's approval ratings in the Hollingsworth era have gone from an index of -8 to -22 (i.e., from 41% approve/49% disapprove to 33% approve/53% disapprove; see graph below).

There are criticisms of PPP's methodology, mind you, as well as the fact that it typically works for Democrats and liberals. But its numbers have consistently matched other surveys, including Quinnipiac University, which will likely be polling Florida soon.

Regardless of the poll, Scott has consistently trailed former Gov. Charlie Crist by double digits in hypothetical matchups. And Scott is pretty much tied with the only major announced Democratic candidate, former state Sen. Nan Rich, little known and struggling to fundraise.

Not all of this can be blamed on a chief of staff. Scott is in charge. He barely won office in the reddest of Republican years, and his poll numbers have always been poor. Also, the trendline below indicates that Hollingsworth took over as Scott reached a peak in his relative popularity. The state of the 2012 presidential campaign and the economy certainly have influences on the numbers as well.

But Hollingsworth has major influence over Scott's policies, which help drive his poll numbers. And Hollingsworth is obviously watching the polls.

Scott (since his time at Columbia/HCA and beyond) has a reputation as a delegator, he puts people in positions of authority and then generally follows their advice. Some who have known him over the years say there's a drawback to that: He's most influenced by the last guy in the room advising him.

Hollingsworth apparently knows that, and has made sure to be the last guy in the room. It's a similar tactic employed by his predecessor, Steve MacNamara, whose time was marred by controversy over insider deals. MacNamara was Scott's biggest failure, and Hollingsworth probably won't match that sad superlative. Hollingsworth has a reputation of being far more honest and decent than MacNamara.

But, word is, he has increasingly charted a course that has tried to minimize Scott's top political adviser, Tony Fabrizio, who never talks about what's happening in Team Scott's huddle and always says all is well.

Fabrizio, however, did intriguingly note in a public speech in Miami last month that he was simply a pollster and message-expert, not the person setting the agenda for Scott. Fabrizio was once much more than that. And, perhaps, once the campaign is under way (Scott hasn't officially announced yet), Fabrizio's role will become more noticeable and the tongue-wagging about a Hollingsworth-led ice-out will die out.

But as of now, under Hollingsworth, Scott's agenda has become less predictable and his message more muddled in the past year.  

Forsaking his conservative base, Scott tepidly called for the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, outraging his tea party base. Scott said little as the House crushed the idea. Tea partiers were still bugged.

Late last month, Scott started to distance himself from the Common Core educational standards championed by former GOP Gov. Jeb Bush. Scott now won't even say if he supports Common Core. In that case, the far-right cheered. But some Bush supporters are miffed and concerned.

"It's getting tougher and tougher to tell where Scott stands," said one top legislative Republican. "It looks like he's flailing. And sometimes it seems as if Adam acts like he's the governor."

Earlier this week, word surfaced that Hollingsworth also approved an embarrassing $25,000-per-donor gator hunt fundraiser for Scott, which was scuttled amid blowback.

Hollingsworth isn't commenting. And a governor's office spokesperson didn't deny the reports in the East Orlando Post blog, saying simply: "You will need to get with the GOP on fundraisers, etc." (Note: this was a Scott fundraiser, not a political-party fundraiser).

So here's what one knowledgeable Republican source said: "Adam knew about it. This idea wasn't new, but people before Adam quashed it because it's just a weird, bad idea... I didn't understand it. I'd rather have a nice dinner and hand the governor a check instead of going out in some swamp shooting reptiles."

Another Republican Capitol insider said the Executive Office of the Governor, under Hollingsworth's immediate control, was also informed by Attorney General Pam Bondi's office last month about a fundraiser of hers that conflicted with a scheduled execution. So the execution was moved, embarrassing Bondi and forcing Scott to say what he knew (he said he knew nothing). It's clear the major blame falls on Bond (who apologized) but Hollingsworth apparently could have spoken up to stop the blunder, but nothing was done.

Another reversal of a different sort has Republicans scratching their heads: Scott's decision to refuse to fund a Sarasota rowing center, only to turn around and then back it so publicly that he appeared at an event at Regatta Island touting the use of the tax money. Scott described it as a job-creator. But the image of a rich guy giving tax money to help a rich-guy's sport elicited groans from GOP consultants.

"What's the messaging there?" one asked.

Then there was the awkward moment after Hollingsworth looked down on associating with lobbyists, the "Tallahassee apparatchik," only to attend a lobbyist-heavy birthday party.

Now a new insider controversy looms concerning Scott's long-vacant lieutenant governor spot. Hollingsworth, who helped push out former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carol, is now pushing for his longtime friend, Jacksonville Sen. John Thrasher, to become lieutenant governor. For a guy who speaks ill of lobbyists and the Tallahassee power structure, the choice of Thrasher (a former top notch lobbyist after he was House Speaker) is an interesting move.

Political operative Roger Stone, a Republican-turned-independent political consultant, has bashed Hollingsworth's Thrasher-advocacy on Twitter. Stone's criticism stands out because he's a longtime friend of Fabrizio's. However, the two haven't been close for some time when Stone began criticizing the governor and making noise about running for the post himself.

Stone doesn't want to comment, an out-of-character posture. So we're left with the mobs of Republicans in Tallahassee speaking without attribution about Coach Hollingsworth. The governor's paid defenders  will question why the critics aren't bold enough to speak on the record. Here's why: it'll cost them their jobs and livelihoods.

But these are all Republicans and all people who dread the idea of Crist becoming governor and Scott losing. There are many of them. And they know their business.

What we do have that's clear is what's on the record: Poll numbers. Lots of them. Bad ones, and consistently so.

The fourth quarter is coming up. Scott is down. And many Republicans are concerned that Hollingsworth just can't handle the two-minute offense.

PPP Scott trend


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spot on.

Tally Insider

Republicans rather have Charlie Crist. They all say the same behind closed doors. No one can take Rick Scott's megalomania. Except of course, Fabrizio and Hollingsworth, who make millions sucking the tit.

Rick Scott’s Chief of Staff Brings Liberal Activism to Governor’s Mansion

When Scott announced his appointment of Hollingsworth, the Florida media spun Hollingsworth’s background as consistent with Scott’s grassroots conservative base. A Sunshine State News article announcing the appointment provided a typical media assessment:

“On paper anyway, this Jacksonville native looks almost the perfect cross between tea-party outsider and party-vetted insider. He is highly regarded among the state’s Republican leadership, having worked as chief of staff for former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, a tea-party favorite who had no experience in political, or even public, office.”

“Adam is a problem solver and that’s what we need to continue on Governor Scott’s successes,” then-Republican Party of Florida Chairman Harold Fry told Sunshine State News.

In reality, however, Hollingsworth’s record is far from that of a Tea Party conservative or even a mainstream Republican.

At the time Scott appointed Hollingsworth to be his chief of staff, one of Hollingsworth’s most outspoken advocates was longtime Democratic legislator James Harold Thompson. Sunshine State News reports that “Hollingsworth considers [Thompson] a personal mentor.”

Thompson spent 12 years representing Democrats in the Florida legislature, including a term as House Speaker.

Hollingsworth’s connections to high-profile Democrats extend far beyond considering a former Democratic Speaker of the House to be his personal mentor. Hollingsworth also worked on the staff for Democratic U.S. Congressman Charlie Bennett, Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Jacksonville Mayor Ed Austin, who flip-flopped between being a Democrat and a Republican.

Most troubling to conservatives is Hollingsworth’s work for Corrine Brown, who for the past 20 years has been one of the more liberal members of the U.S. Congress. Brown voted for the Obama stimulus, the TARP bailouts, cash for clunkers, aggressive affirmative action programs, renewable energy subsidies, and global warming restrictions. Brown voted against school choice, free trade agreements, energy production on federal lands, requiring photo identification to vote in federal elections, and legislation defining marriage as one man and one woman. Brown received an “F” from the National Rifle Association for her repeated votes against gun rights.

A closer examination of Hollingsworth’s work for former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton reveals that neither Peyton nor Hollingsworth were nearly as consistent with conservative or Tea Party values as the Sunshine State News originally asserted.

Although Peyton campaigned as a conservative Republican when he first ran for Jacksonville mayor, he quickly moved to the left upon taking office. Peyton launched an expensive “early reading” program in which taxpayers footed the bill for new government programs aimed at preschoolers, including giving books about the city of Jacksonville to all mothers giving birth in Jacksonville hospitals. Studies showed the programs conveyed no long-term educational benefits to Jacksonville schoolchildren.

Peyton moved even further to the left in 2008 after naming Hollingsworth his new chief of staff. Peyton successfully pushed for a 9 percent property tax hike during 2009 and pushed for an additional 14 percent property tax hike in 2010. With Hollingsworth helping direct policy as his chief of staff, Peyton strayed so far from his professed conservative values that the Jacksonville Examiner published an article titled, “Crist, Peyton and politics as usual.”

“Back in 2003, John Peyton ran for mayor as the major conservative candidate,” Examiner columnist Kevin Michael Derby noted.

“I don’t remember tax hikes being part of the conservative credo,” Derby observed.

“I’m starting to think conservatives are the biggest group of suckers in America….” Derby continued. “Conservatives rage against government spending and supported the GOP during one of the largest periods of federal growth under President Bush, Speaker Hastert, and Senate Majority Leader Frist. Peyton and Crist are just the latest pair who have gotten away with it.”

The sum of Hollingsworth’s record is quite different from the media’s assertion that Hollingsworth is a Tea Party favorite who has been deeply vetted by conservative Republicans. To the contrary, Hollingsworth’s record is clearly one of a longtime Democrat who occasionally joins Republican politicians to help steer them to the left.

The only remaining question is, did Hollingsworth give birth to Rick Scott’s dash to the political left after Hollingsworth became Scott’s chief of staff, or did Scott choose Hollingsworth as chief of staff precisely because of Hollingsworth’s strong connections with Democrats and his experience assisting Republicans dash to the political left?





. Hollingsworth has a reputation of being far more honest and decent than MacNamara.

He is a liar. People that have known him for years know he is a liar.

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2013/10/the-hollingsworth-effect-rick-scotts-still-bad-poll-numbers-gator-hunt-fail.html#storylink=cpy

Benito Camelo

What a bunch of scumbags running Florida from Tallahassee, starting with the Governor. He's a disgrace to Florida and so are his minions.

Fake name [edited]

I love all the lobbyists rushing to this clown's defense on Twitter. @MacStipanovich, I'm looking at you.

If you see a vocal defense of Scott's second failed Chief of Staff, follow the money. Chances are the person wants or needs something from Hollingsworth as long as he remains the Governor's chief of staff.

But make no mistake...behind closed doors, everyone is doing the math, coldly calculating whether or not they, too, should plunge the dagger in deep.

Beware the Ides of October.

Melissa Sellers

This story is completely unfair. Adam became Chief of Staff in July 2012 and quickly helped "right the ship" that was sinking fast thanks to the Governor's previous failed staff.

The Governor actually hit his highest poll numbers during the hurricane that just missed the RNC convention, while Adam was at the helm. Adam deserves most of the credit for that.

Adam Hollingsworth is also honest to a fault. He never lies and is always forthright, which is refreshing in a city like Tallahassee.

Randall McMurphy

I love it when the top dogs start eating themselves.

Ex-Intern EOG Staffer

I remember this speech! I worked in the Governor's office in 2012 and one day everyone had to go to a meeting in a big room in the basement. After a short wait, this little person comes in, maybe 4'6" tall with elevator shoes on, red faced and chipmnunk-cheeked, and he starts talking about throwing chairs at halftime of the football game. Everyone is looking around like, "What is this guy talking about?"

Anyway, he portrayed himself like he was some kind of turnaround specialist and he was going to fix the governor's poll numbers, that it was all just a simple matter and he was this expert who had all the answers.

But if I read this article right, sounds like the polling numbers are only worse now that he's in charge.

What a little person with a big ego.

Alan Levine

At the end of the day, the Governor will be judged by the voters based on a simple assessment....Is the economy doing better or not? By most measures, Florida's economy is outperforming the rest of the nation. This Governor and the Republican leaders in the legislature have paid down billions of dollars in debt accumulated during the previous administration. They have cut taxes and are poised to do so again. There have been no major scandals since Adam arrived, or even little ones that I can think of. The routine operations of our government in Florida are working, no better or worse than previous administrations. Our system of higher education, for the first time in a very long time, slowed down the precipitous rise in tuition that occurred during the previous administration - a result no one can credibly argue happened for any reason other than Rick Scott's persistence. And we have Universities that, for the first time, due to this Governor, Speaker Weatherford and President Gaetz, have wind at their back with the state sponsored goal of being top ranked research Universities.

These are pretty good achievements that will stack up well against any opponent, particularly if the opponent raised taxes, increased state debt to record levels, and sponsored the largest tuition increases in our state's history.

As for Common Core, to be clear, the common core standards are NOT federally mandated. They were state sponsored standards. Here's the problem....back when states did this, there was a widespread recognition of the unspoken rules of Government. First, the federal government didn't spy on Americans. Second, the IRS didn't target groups based on their political leanings. Where we have evolved to, thanks to the Obama Administration, is that people now have a sincere distrust of their federal government, and anything that may be perceived to be a part of it. So, conservative Governors like Rick Scott are trying to find ways to support the state sponsored standards while also providing comfort to their constituents that he won't allow any intrusion into family and student privacy, and won't allow the standards to slip into federally controlled curriculum. And once again, to be clear, Common Core is NOT a curriculum.... The one person responsible for screwing this up is President Obama, not the Governor. And now, people like Jeb Bush, who is one of our nations leading student advocates, stands accused of defending something like Common Core, when he agrees with the conservative base that no one wants the federal government to control curriculum. Governor Scott supports Common Core Standards, and he has stood behind them. But he also has a healthy recognition for the public's newfound distrust of the federal government, and he is trying to find solutions that address that while not backing away from Common Core. Incidentally, he is NOT the only governor in this position. Pretty much ALL conservative governors are dealing with this.

All this insider chatter is interesting reading. Yet, the public only cares about their own lives, their own cost of living, and their own ability to pursue their ambitions. THAT will be the poll that matters. And remember...Rick Scott was behind in the polls leading up to his election....or so the polls said.

Alan needs a job

No one, and I mean no one cares what you think, Alam Levine. Your over inflated ego drives you to post meaningless pontifications. Go away. You should be more concerned about finding another high paying, do nothing job. You only kept your previous dozen for about a year before they figure you out. We have gotta think there are fewer and fewer options out there for you.

Jax Native

Many who have known Adam for some time have been perplexed and disappointed by his proclivity to engage in meaningless and petty scirmishes just to prove that he can win them.

This has been a constant since his first position with Cong. Bennett and is one of the reasons why he had such a short tenure with CSX.


Well said, Alan Levine. The article above, like so many, is superficial. It only speaks as to what he said, she said, etc.; but as usual our media refuses to talk about what is really important. The glass is always half empty when they talk about our Governor.

The economy is turning around for Florida. Florida's debt is better with a AAA rating which saves the state money. I'm proud that my state has a balanced budget and money in reserves.

When the ads start flying, then the poll numbers will be more interesting. At least then our Governor can pay for his own advertising and tell his message himself.

The press in Florida will not be on his side regardless of who is running against him. The information is so one-sided and slanted that it amazes me that anyone listens to them at all. Unfortunately, people do.

The press really didn't like that someone came into our state and paid his own way into the Governor's mansion. I have to admit that I wasn't comfortable with it either. So much so that I didn't vote for him in the last election.

The press does not like the positions he takes, and they are against him at every turn. I do like what he is doing, and I plan to vote for him this time. Factually, state government is running well; and we are better off than we were when he came to Tallahassee.

All this insider stuff makes everybody involved in politics look silly, and the press sells more papers. It is a shame.


Adam was never the right pick. He had very little Tallahassee political experience and didnt know how to surround himself with the right staff to do what needed to be done - make a very awkward Rick Scott who has bad political instincts, look like a well polished, likeable, connecting politician who cares. That requires more than a token march to the middle with support medicaid expansion, or a state jobs tour, or press releases on a politically tonedeaf $500mil corporate tax cut that is of NO significange to Joe Sixpack. It would require instilling in the office a political intuition they do not have. Like John Kasich has done. He has recovered from early mis-steps and will likely be re-elected in Ohio.

Truth is, Rick Scott does care, but he comes off as strange, unconnecting and unlikeable. Thats not only the fault of AH and staff, but of Fabrizio. On what planet is this gentleman a master strategist and pollster? His crowing achievement is making millions off a millionaire to move his poll numbers consistently down.

The interesting part is Rick Scott is a very smart, determined man trying to do good for the state in a difficult economic environment, but he appears to be surrounded by a political C team. And the C team started with Enu and continued with Macnamara. It didnt just start with AH.

The Governor has 6 months, or Republicans will be clammoring for Jeff Atwater or Adam Putnam to be the standard bearer. They come off as likeable, smart and appear to be winners. Bondi has just torched herself, so she's not an option.

Maybe the thought of Charlie Crist and Nan Rich running Government will rattle Adam and others into gear to grow some political savvy, or will result in another staff change. AH isnt getting the job done right now.


Jennifer Carroll was the only black Republican woman elected official. Her Jacksonville pal, Adam, got rid of her. What does that tell you about this guy? If reporters care they'll look into Adam a lot deeper.


One thing is for sure. Scott won't have the 15-320% push from African Americans that got he and Carroll elected last time. They were really voting for her and not him.

Can't take anymore

Scott was elected because Alex Sink ran the worst campaign for Governor since that of her late husband four years before her. The Democrats are better off that she ducked out before the campaign began in 2014 instead of in the middle of it. Speculating about Scott's personal political acumen is a waste of time. He simply hires people to do that for him.

Sick and Tired

I find the post by Melissa Sellers, Director of Communications interesting. If she is Sellers then it stands to reason she would defend Hollingsworth. A quick check on this person reveals that while working for Jindal the media declared her public enemy number one. There are reports of her ignoring media, body blocking at least one reporter, quick giving the finger and lying to the media. Which begs the question what really happened to the dog named Reagan?

Hollingsworth is an interesting study as well. That is if you want to study someone who sells influence and smiles at you while he shakes your ands and lies to your face. It is obvious to me that Hollingsworth is rewriting the book on a successful shakedown artist.

I remember Scott's speech where he stated the lobbyist were going to cry in their cocktails. Now thanks to Hollingsworth Scott is the waiter serving them their drinks.

I do not like Charile Crist and will never vote for him. The actions, decisions and flip flops of Scott has made me realize I cannot vote for him either. One under vote here.

Willima J.

Sellers is Scott's Communications Director? How unprofessional is that? Damn bunch of rookies.

Somewhere in South Florida

I feel sorry for Governor Rick Scott. He is doing the best he can to help the State of Florida "to get back to work." Unfortunately, the Governor is ill-served by senior staff like Adam Hollingsworth and Melissa Sellers, who are basically incompetent and not trustworthy and, as a result, they have put their own self-interest ahead of the Governor they serve. Disgraceful! Furthermore, Hollingsworth and Sellers are both power hungry and they do not care whose lives they ruin or whose reputations they destroy in shellfish pursuit of even more power and influence. As the old saying goes, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." They also say that "revenge is best served cold" ... looks like from the comments on this thread, there is a whole bunch of revenge being served - and deservedly so! People like Hollingsworth and Sellers give politics a bad name. If the Governor was smart, he would give both of them their walking papers.

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