The "Jesus stomping" controversy at Florida Atlantic University is a political gift from the almighty to Gov. Rick Scott.
The governor, plagued with continuing dismal poll ratings and increasing discontent from his conservative political base as he prepares to run for re-election, was able to take a stand that's likely to help him a bit without doing any harm.
The incident, which has been a hot topic on conservative websites, involved a class assignment in which students were asked to write "Jesus" on a piece of paper, throw it on the floor, and stomp on it.
On Tuesday, Scott praised the student who blew the whistle on what happened for demonstrating "great conviction and bravery," said the lessen "was offensive, and even intolerant, to Christians and those of all faiths," and asked the State University System for a report about the incident and how to prevent it from happening again.
"This is the sort of thing that a politician can take advantage of – in the positive sense of the word," said Charles Zelden, a professor of history and legal studies who specializes in politics and voting at Nova Southeastern University.
"It energizes his base, something that this governor really needs. The problem that Scott has isn't that the Democrats really, really hate him. It's that his base isn't that happy with him right now."
Scott has backtracked on several of the more conservative stands that made him a hero to the tea party movement and other conservatives during the 2010 gubernatorial election and first two years of his term. The biggest: backtracking on his opposition to federal health care reform, and coming out in support for a key element of Obama care: expanding the Medicaid health program for the poor.
Getting involved in the incident at Florida Atlantic University can help "get the base energized," Selden said even though its on an issue that is peripheral to the economy and jobs, issues that were central to the governor's 2010 victory.
The kind of thing that happened at FAU "is, of course, central to many members of the Republican base," Selden said. "This is something that can bring the governor and the base back together."
The latest Quintilian Poll, released last week, found 46 percent of Florida voters have an unfavorable view of Scott and 33 percent have a favorable impression of the governor.
Democrats are especially hostile, giving him 69 percent unfavorable to 13 percent favorable, but Scott also doesn't do well with independent voters, who give a 46 percent to 30 percent unfavorable rating. Republicans have a much more positive view, with 64 percent favorable to 20 percent unfavorable.
Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward Democratic Party, said those numbers explain what Scott was doing.
"This is why people distrust politicians, because no incident can go uncommented on when they're up for re-election," he said. "I would characterize this for him as in a slow-pitch softball game, it provide him the opportunity to make his fans happy again."
Tom Truex, chairman of the Broward Republican Party, said it's a mistake to read political motives into the governor's action.