As expected, Rick Scott will toss his hat into the ring in an attempt to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November. Rumors and then expectations have swirled for months about the Republican governor’s Beltway ambitions. However, Scott will frame his campaign as an attack on Washington DC, just like another candidate in 2016 did in pulling off a mild upset in the presidential election:
Calling Washington “horribly dysfunctional,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott is challenging U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in an election that could be one of the most expensive and highly-watched races in the nation.
The Republican governor was expected to criticize “career politicians” and call for term limits for members of Congress while formally announcing his campaign on Monday.
“I admit that Washington is horribly dysfunctional,” said Scott in scripted remarks made available ahead of his announcement in Orlando.
“Washington is full of old thinking. Washington is tired. And the truth is, both political parties share some of the blame. They’ve tried a lot of things – it just didn’t work. But I will not accept the idea that we can’t change Washington.”
Does that mean Scott will embrace Trump and have him come to Florida to campaign on Scott’s behalf? The governor played coy with Politico’s Matt Dixon and Marc Caputo on that question:
Scott has never shied away from his friendship with Trump — who has repeatedly urged him to run against Nelson, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat. And regardless of the constant string of White House controversies, Scott has only distanced himself from the president to the mildest of degrees.
But the self-made Scott, who was born poor, raised in public housing and then won the Florida governor’s mansion as a political novice, wants everyone to know that he’s his own man.
“I consider myself Rick Scott. I don’t consider myself any type of anything,” the governor told POLITICO in an exclusive interview Sunday when asked if he considers himself a “Donald Trump Republican.”
“I run on what I believe in. I’ve been very clear,” he said. “People ask me that a bunch of times, about ‘Are you this or are you that?’ No. I’m Rick Scott. I grew up poor. I believe in jobs.”
Can Scott play coy for another seven months? Democrats’ strategy will be to hammer Trump in purple states, and attempt to ignore Trump in the redder states. If Claire McCaskill goes on statewide anti-Trump rants in Missouri, for instance, I’d be shocked … and she’ll get retired. Florida is another matter, though. Trump won Missouri by 18 points, but only just edged by Hillary Clinton in Florida by a little over a percentage point. Combine the flood of Puerto Ricans coming into the state from the excruciatingly slow recovery from the hurricane with the energizing of the Left by Trump animus overall, and this looks like a tough election season in Florida for Trump allies.
On the other hand, Bill Nelson’s not exactly blowing Scott away in polling either. It’s been a few weeks since the last head-to-head poll, but the RealClearPolitics average on polls conducted in January and February only gives Nelson a 3.8-point aggregate lead, with an average of support at 45.8%. That’s not a great number for an incumbent, especially one who won his last election by 13 points (against Connie Mack) and who at age 75 wants a fourth term in that seat. Thats one reason Scott wants to make term limits an issue in this race, besides the obvious populist appeal. Nelson’s also the only Democrat in Florida currently in statewide office, although that could change in this midterm environment.
Much will depend on the strength of populism in this midterm cycle. Nelson is an establishment candidate, which Scott clearly hopes to emphasize. Can he do that while keeping Trump at arms’ length, and should he want to do that? Like many other midterm contests, the results will be seen through a presidential-embrace lens no matter how they turn out. That’s at least one change that hasn’t come to Washington. If we had worked to reduce the power and reach of the presidency and executive authority in general, perhaps that might change Washington for the better, eh?