Calling Washington “horribly dysfunctional,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott is challenging 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.
Scott is a multimillionaire businessman who never ran for office until his successful governor’s race in 2010. He campaigned as part of the Tea Party movement, and called for massive budget and tax cuts, but was forced to scale back his plans amid opposition from the GOP-controlled legislature. He also changed his hardline positions on immigration.
Scott should expect to have the full support of President Donald Trump, who praised the governor for his leadership as the state dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in September 2017 and urged him to run federally.
Democrats have been anticipating his move for months and have ramped up their criticism, noting that Scott had been forced out as chief executive of Columbia/HCA amid a federal fraud investigation. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing, the health-care conglomerate paid a then-record $1.7-billion US fine for Medicare fraud.
Florida carried by Trump in 2016
“Floridians will have the benefit of a clear-eyed view of a truly dismal record,” said Dan Gelber, a former state senator and now Miami Beach mayor. “Floridians won’t forget the damage Rick Scott’s self-serving politics have done these last seven years, no matter how he tries to change his spots and obscure his record.”
Scott’s record on gun laws earned him an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association before the killings of 17 people at a Florida high school this year. Ultimately, Scott signed Florida’s new law raising the age limit to purchase rifles to 21 and creating a new process enabling law-enforcement to seize guns from someone who is considered a danger.
Scott took aim at Nelson, meanwhile, contending the Democrat has “done nothing” in the Senate on high-profile issues such as gun violence. Nelson said Scott has not done enough — Nelson wants universal background checks and a ban on certain types of semi-automatic rifles.
Nelson, who will be 76 by the time of the election, has served in the Senate since a 2000 victory and his political past also includes over a dozen years served in the House.
While Trump’s divisiveness would appear to make the Republicans vulnerable in the House, the Democrats will face a tougher challenge in the Senate. Nelson is among 24 Democrats who are to trying to defend their seats, including in 10 states Trump carried in the 2016 general election.
As well, among the eight seats Republicans are defending, they will be able to run fresh faces in at least three, as Jeff Flake, Bob Corker and Orrin Hatch have indicated they are not seeking another term.