TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Rick Scott appears ready to jump into Florida’s Senate race, setting up a high-profile showdown against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
Scott on Monday announced plans to make a “major announcement” on April 9. The move came a day after a top Scott aide, Jackie Schutz Zeckman, resigned as the governor’s chief of staff.
Zeckman, who has worked for Scott since his first year in office, would not provide any additional details about the governor’s political plans. She worked on Scott’s re-election campaign four years ago.
Scott, who had a scheduled news conference at a central Florida state park on Monday, sidestepped questions about his plans, but encouraged reporters to attend the announcement.
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“It’s going to be a fun day,” Scott said.
Scott, who is leaving office in early 2019, has been mulling a run against Nelson for more than a year. The 65-year-old governor has recently been ramping up his criticism of the three-term incumbent and the two men have traded jabs over gun violence and what should be done in the aftermath of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.
President Donald Trump has already publicly encouraged Scott to run. Scott, meanwhile, since last year has also been raising money for a federal super PAC.
“I fully expect him to run,” said Brian Ballard, a well-known lobbyist who has close ties to both Scott and Trump. “I have expected him to run for two years.”
Nelson, who has already said he will seek another term, was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000 after spending time as the state’s insurance commissioner and as a U.S. congressman. Nelson, who will turn 76 this fall, is the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida.
He has won his last two elections easily but Scott may be the most formidable opponent he has encountered since he lost the Democratic primary for governor in 1990.
Scott, a multi-millionaire former businessman, has built-in advantages for his campaign: He can rely on his own money, he can point to job growth under his watch as governor, and his handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Irma has helped his poll numbers.
Scott shocked the GOP establishment eight years ago when he jumped into the race for governor.
He narrowly won that year by focusing on the economy and jobs, yet he was considered an underdog because back in 1997 because he had been forced out of his job as the head of Columbia/HCA amid a federal investigation into fraud. Although Scott was never charged with any wrongdoing, the company paid a then-record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.
Democratic aligned groups have already been anticipating a Scott run and have been hammering away at his record. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee earlier this month launched two digital ads that sharply criticized the governor and one of them mentioned the fine against Columbia/HCA.
Joshua Karp, a spokesman for the group American Bridge, called Scott a “wealthy insider” and “untrustworthy politician” and predicted “Floridians would reject his failed record” in November.