Florida Gov. Rick Scott Announces Senate Run, Challenging Incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson

Apr 9, 2018
Originally published on April 10, 2018 12:53 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

All right, here's a reminder you're going to hear a lot between now and November. Republicans have control of the U.S. Senate by a 51 to 49 majority. Now, their prospects of keeping that majority got better today when Florida Governor Rick Scott said he is entering the race. His challenge to the sitting Democrat will probably be one of the most expensive contests in the country. NPR's Greg Allen has more.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Scott gathered supporters today at a construction company in Orlando.

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RICK SCOTT: I'm announcing I am running for the U.S. Senate for the great state of Florida.

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ALLEN: Scott's entrance into the Senate race isn't a surprise. He's signaled his interest for months. He's been raising money, and President Trump has openly encouraged him to run. With his fundraising prowess, his personal wealth and two terms as governor behind him, he's a formidable candidate and isn't likely to face a challenge in the Republican primary. In announcing today, Scott touted his record over the last eight years, especially regarding jobs and the economy. It's an issue he's focused on since 2010, when he first ran for governor.

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SCOTT: This state had lost over 800,000 jobs in four years. We still had this beautiful weather. But we increased regulations. We increased taxes on people in this state. But we stopped it. We've now - you, business people, job creators have added 1.5 million jobs almost.

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ALLEN: When Scott took office in 2010, Florida was just beginning to recover from the housing collapse and the worst recession since the 1930s. Dan Gelber, a former Democratic leader in the Legislature, now mayor of Miami Beach, says the state's economic recovery has mirrored that of the nation as a whole.

DAN GELBER: If you look at the median income of families in Florida, it's not improved. We've fallen away from the rest of the country in the last decade.

ALLEN: Rick Scott was new to politics when he first ran for governor. The former head of the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, he funded his first campaign with more than $70 million of his own money. He came to Tallahassee as a political outsider, a reputation he's now showcasing as he looks to the Senate.

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SCOTT: You know, I didn't fit into Tallahassee because I didn't play the insider games. I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I'm not going to fit into Washington either.

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ALLEN: Over his eight years as governor, Scott has built a formidable fundraising operation. The Florida Senate race is expected to be one of the most expensive in the country and is likely to easily top $100 million. Scott's opponent, Bill Nelson, and other Democrats will have their work cut out for them matching Scott's spending. They're starting early, already running digital ads attacking Scott.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He has avoided telling the full truth about how he's increased his personal wealth by $46 million while governor. Let's face it. Rick Scott just can't tell the truth.

ALLEN: Scott enters the race on the heels of a major accomplishment. After the Parkland shooting, he pushed for the first meaningful gun restrictions in Florida in more than 20 years. Scott had an A-plus rating from the NRA. And in this purple state, Republican political strategist Mac Stipanovich says it might leave him in a good position politically.

MAC STIPANOVICH: The NRA is not going to endorse the Democrat. So he had a hall pass on the gun thing. And it was a hall pass that put him in a better position with the vast majority of Floridians in a general election.

ALLEN: But many believe the biggest issue in the campaign will be President Trump. Rick Scott was one of Trump's earliest supporters and has talked about their close relationship. Lately Scott has been talking less about his ties with the president and hasn't said whether Trump will be campaigning for him. Democratic strategist Steve Schale says Trump and his low approval ratings may be Rick Scott's greatest challenge.

STEVE SCHALE: If Trump is where he is today in late October, I don't really care how much money Rick Scott spends. It's just hard for me to believe that voters who are motivated to vote by sending a message to President Trump will vote for Rick Scott.

ALLEN: In Washington today, Democrat Bill Nelson released a statement. It's clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected. I've always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF PANIK'S "BEG 2 DIFFER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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