Rick Scott Announces Senate Bid in Florida

Rick Scott Announces Senate Bid in Florida
AP Photo/John Raoux
Rick Scott Announces Senate Bid in Florida
AP Photo/John Raoux
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced his campaign for the U.S. Senate Monday morning, billing himself as a Washington outsider and turning the race against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson into the marquee upper-chamber matchup of the midterms.

“Washington is a disaster,” Scott said. “It’s dysfunctional. There’s a lot of old, tired thinking up there. It’s not headed in the right direction. Here’s what we shouldn’t be doing. We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington.”

Scott’s campaign announcement came as little surprise. Top Republican officials, including President Trump – who is personally close to the governor – have been encouraging him to run for months and consider him the top recruit of the cycle. His fundraising ability and his personal fortune likely foreshadow a campaign that could easily become the most expensive and closely watched race in the nation.

He will face off against Nelson, a three-term incumbent who coasted to double-digit wins in each of his re-election races and started the year with $8 million in the bank for this campaign. Both candidates are used to having the political wind at their backs: Nelson twice won re-election in massive wave years for Democrats, while Scott won both of his campaigns for governor in wave Republican years. Democrats are confident the 2018 political climate, in the first midterm of Trump’s administration, will create headwinds for Scott.

“I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent,” Nelson said in a statement. “While it’s clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I’ve always believed that if you wake up every day and if you try to do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself.”

The race is expected to be tight. Nelson currently leads by 3.8 percentage points in the RCP poll average

Scott’s long-anticipated campaign announcement is a dramatic boost for Republicans as they seek to maintain or grow their narrow one-seat majority in the Senate. Democrats are defending 26 seats in November compared to just nine for the GOP. Ten of the seats with Democratic incumbents, including Florida’s, are in states that Trump won in 2016.

Despite the favorable map, Republicans failed to recruit their top challengers in several of those races, and face divisive or troubling primaries in others, including Arizona, Indiana, West Virginia and Wisconsin. But in Florida, Scott gives the party both a top recruit and a contest without a primary battle, allowing Republicans to focus their entire energy on Nelson.

Scott appears primed to use his opponent’s long political career as a central argument of his campaign. Nelson entered the Senate in 2001, and previously served six terms in the U.S. House. In his announcement, Scott focused on his own economic record as governor, touting job creation and tax cuts and a boost in tourism during his seven years in office. But he also advocated for term limits in Congress.

“This concept of career politicians has got to stop,” Scott said, though he didn’t mention Nelson by name. “We have to have term limits on Congress. We’re not going to see a change in Washington if we don’t have term limits on Congress.”

Democrats, on the other hand, are poised to use Scott’s record as governor against him.  Senate Majority PAC, the top Democratic outside group, released an advertisement, timed with Scott’s announcement, and said it would spend six figures on the initial campaign attacking Scott’s tenure as governor.

“If he didn’t look out for you here, he won’t look out for you there,” the narrator says in the ad.

Democrats are also likely to use Scott’s longtime friendship with Trump as a bludgeon against him. Scott, in an interview with Politico prior to his announcement, didn’t say whether he’d want the president to campaign with him, and dismissed a question about whether he considered himself a Trump Republican.

In a fundraising appeal before Scott’s announcement, the Florida Democratic Party referred to him as a “lackey” for Trump. In an appeal immediately following his announcement, they again used the president to try to spark contributions.

“Rick Scott’s priority if elected to the Senate? Voting the way Donald Trump demands,” the fundraising emails said.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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