President Obama narrowly won Florida in 2008, and it seems likely that the nation’s largest swing state will be another competitive battleground next year. Politico reports that the president and his team have a “secret weapon” in mind to win Florida’s 29 electoral votes in 2012.

…Obama’s biggest asset in a critical swing state he won by a mere 2.8-percentage-point margin in 2008 might be Rick Scott, the wildly unpopular Republican governor Democrats are casting as Lex Luthor to Obama’s Clark Kent.

Democrats say Scott, a stern, angular, unvarnished former health insurance hospital conglomerate executive, is an easily caricatured embodiment of conservative excess and tea party overreach. […]

“The double whammy for any Republican running in Florida is Rick Scott and Medicare,” said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the south Florida congresswoman who was chosen for her new job, in part, to be Obama’s most visible surrogate in the nation’s biggest swing state. “Rick Scott is at 29 percent — 29 percent!” she added.

But before Democrats find this too encouraging, it’s worth noting that Rick Scott has a campaign “secret weapon” of his own: he’s making it tougher for Democrats to even participate in the election in the first place. Most notably, the governor and his GOP allies are restricting groups’ abilities to launch voter registration drives.

“This law has created, really, a draconian, very broad, ambiguous bureaucracy that is going to make it impossible for volunteers to continue our voter registration work,” said Deirdre Macnab, who heads the Florida branch of the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group that advocates for political participation.

“Something that’s as American as apple pie,” Macnab said in reference to voter registration drives, “is now going to be encumbered with so much red tape and regulation, and the potential for civil charges from the attorney general that it is going to have a really vast impact on the registration of new voters.” […]

Lee Rowland, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice who specializes in voters’ rights cases, called the law “incredibly restrictive” and noted her group has successfully sued Florida twice before to stop similar laws from going into effect.

The same law cuts the number of early-voting days nearly in half — from 14 days to eight — apparently to make it harder for more people to vote.

The Miami Herald recently characterized this as “bare-knuckle politics at its purest.”

The GOP moves are obviously thug-like tactics, hoping to rig the game so that Democrats can’t compete on a level playing field, but it’s also the kind of thing Republicans do when they’re scared.

Scott is dragging the party down in Florida, which will help Obama, but it only matters if folks are able to participate next fall.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.