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Amid power struggle with staff chief, Gov. Rick Scott's 2010 victory architect takes a step back


Amid a power struggle with Gov. Rick Scott's new chief of staff, the pollster-architect of the Republican's unexpected campaign victory in 2010 has taken a step back from day-to-day operations of his reelection campaign for next year.

Pollster Tony Fabrizio said in an email that he is still working for the governor, but he downplayed and declined to comment about what has become an open secret in Tallahassee -- his clashes with Scott's chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth.

Since he was appointed in the summer of 2012, Hollingsworth has tried to take over more political operations in the state capital and minimized Scott's 2010 loyalists, Republicans say.

Rumors from the Republican Governors Association meeting in Arizona flew this week that Fabrizio was gone from the campaign, but he made clear he's just taking on a different role: handling long-term strategic planning rather than day-to-day campaign-management and messaging activities.

“I am proud to have been a part of helping Rick Scott shock the political establishment in 2010 and will be even prouder to help him shock them once again in 2014 when he soundly defeats Charlie Crist," Fabrizio said by email.

"Governor Scott’s record of job creation, fiscal management and common sense education reforms will serve as a great contrast to 'flat-leaver' Charlie's record of cutting and running on FL while more than 800,000 lost their jobs and the state budget spiraled out of control,” Fabrizio said.

Replacing Fabrizio as his day-to-day overseer of tactics and message role: Curt Anderson of the firm OnMessage, which remains the lead ad firm on Scott’s team. Anderson and Fabrizio are close friends and worked hand-in-glove on the 2010 campaign.

Fabrizio remains Scott's pollster and his firm will continue to handle the campaign’s media buying. His firm has been paid at least $1 million by Scott's political committee, Let's Get to Work, and the Republican Party of Florida.

The news of the reshuffle in Scott's campaign world troubled Republican consultants who have grown nervous with Scott's unpopularity and polls showing Crist, a Republican-turned-independent-turned Democrat and former governor, could beat him by as many as 10 percentage points if the election were held today.

Scott was expected to lose to both Republican Bill McCollum and Democrat Alex Sink in 2010, however. But, fueled by about $76 million of Scott's own money, Fabrizio and Anderson plotted out a strategy that helped defeat both statewide office holders in to elect the political newcomer.

Scott, though, never garnered 50 percent of the vote, and he took office with weak poll numbers that grew worse.

Scott's poll numbers have remained frozen since his new chief, Hollingsworth took over in the summer of 2012 -- even though Hollingsworth made clear he measured success by public-opinion surveys.

"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." 

Fabrizio helped install Hollingsworth in his current role, but they soon clashed, sources say.

One early conflict arose after Hollingsworth unilaterally decided to advise Scott to sign into law a bill increase campaign contribution limits by six-fold — to $3,000 per individual -- which Fabrizio said ceded a significant advantage to Crist who is already a prolific fundraiser. 

Crist is on pace to raise more than $1 million since announcing his bid this November, though much of the money was donated to his political committee, which can take unlimited sums.

One Republican said Fabrizio told others that Scott's decision to sign that bill "did more for politically for Crist" than Crist's mega-donor boss, trial lawyer John Morgan or the Florida Democratic Party could do.

Fabrizio, another source indicated, also questioned Hollingsworth for approving an alligator-hunting hunt fundraiser for the governo only to scuttle it amid bad publicity; and Fabrizio questioned why Scott was encouraged by Hollingsworth to not attend an education summit that the governor called.

The final conflict came most-recently when Hollingsworth pushed to have his longtime ally, Sen. John Thrasher, appointed as Scott's new lieutenant governor. Fabrizio staunchly pushed for a Hispanic female.

Both lost, apparently.

Neither Thrasher nor a Hispanic female made the list.