ORLANDO, Fla. -- Citing job growth and debt reduction during his eight years as Florida's governor, Rick Scott said Monday morning that he hopes to "shake up Washington" with a run for U.S. Senate.
- As widely expected, Gov. Rick Scott announces Senate run
- Announcement made at construction firm in Orlando
- Scott will run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
"I am running for U.S. Senate for the great state of Florida," he said to a cheering crowd at ODC Construction in Orlando.
"People are flocking to Florida, because this is where you can live the dream of this country," Scott said. "We have to take that same mission to D.C."
“We’ve cut regulation, we’ve streamlined permitting processes, we’ve had a 47 percent increase in tourism in just seven years,” Governor Scott said. “We’ve outpaced the nation in job creation, we’ve outpaced the nation in labor force, we’ve outpaced the nation in GDP growth.”
Scott opened his announcement by emphasizing the state's close ties to Puerto Rico, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans who moved to Florida after the storm will likely be crucial in this election.
Scott is a multimillionaire and former health care executive who used his own wealth to help win two close races for governor. Now, he's crafting his U.S. Senate campaign on being "an outsider."
Critics were quick to pounce.
"For eight years, Rick Scott has put himself and his political interests above the people he serves, and in the Senate he would do the same thing. Here's his record: lost jobs, low wages and an economy that works for himself and his political donors, not to mention higher healthcare bills, a broken public education system and scandal after scandal," Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo said in a released statement. "There is no limit to Rick Scott's dishonesty and Floridians don't trust him to look out for them in the Senate. Floridians deserve better than Rick Scott."
Scott will run against against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Nelson has held the seat since winning it in 2000.
The two have already ramped up criticism of each of other over the last year: on February's school shooting, oil drilling off the Florida coastline and handling of nursing homes flooded from Hurricane Irma.
President Donald Trump has publicly encouraged Scott to run for Senate.
With the balance of power so close in Washington, the race for this U.S. Senate seat is expected to be one of the most expensive in the nation. It's also expected to be close — the last Quinnipiac University poll in late February had Nelson with a 4 percent edge over Scott.
Scott will be leaving the governor’s office in 2019 because of term limits, and a Senate run has been rumored for months.
Despite his official announcement, records show Governor Scott has not yet filed paperwork with the State. He is likely to do that next month between April 30 and May 14, opting to pay the filing fee of $10,440.
What we can expect from a Nelson vs. Scott Senate race
Senator Bill Nelson reacted to Governor Scott’s announcement by saying: “I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent. While 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.”
Nelson has earned praise from Republican peers in the Senate, including Florida’s Republican Senator Marco Rubio, for being able to work across party lines on legislative efforts. While Rubio in the past committed to not to actively campaign against Nelson, he did tweet hours after Scott’s announcement in support of the Governor, encouraging followers to vote and contribute to Scott’s campaign.
In Orlando, some have taken issue with the governor’s failure to show support for victims of the June 12, 2016 Pulse nightclub attack in the same way that he has to victims of the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
It is anticipated the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat may be more closely watched than even the election to replace Scott as the state’s top leader.
In his first bid for governor, Rick Scott poured more than $75 million of his own fortune, created from his healthcare executive days, into his campaign.
Washington Post is reporting that Scott is due in Washington, D.C. as part of an official push to raise capital for his campaign.
Paul Paulson of Orange County, and a Florida Republican State Committeeman, believes Scott has a better chance at challenging Nelson, compared to other Republican candidates in the past, and that alone will help Republicans earn votes and campaign donations.
“We now have a proven winner, he’s beaten other candidates in the past, he’s able to raise money, he’s got a message that we have to bring jobs,” Paulson said. “We have to do something great to turn around Washington.”
President Donald Trump has in the past given his unofficial support to Rick Scott, should he run for Governor. President Trump praised the Governor’s response to Hurricane Maria last year, a storm that battered the state’s keys and southwest side.
The storm itself may also be giving candidates an advantage.
Since the storm, an estimated 200,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida, providing a large pool of potential voters, needed in what will be a close race.
According to the Florida Department of State, statewide registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by a margin of only about 253,000.
There are still approximately 3.5 million registered voters who identify as a minor political party, or no political affiliation.
Samantha-Jo Roth, Troy Kinsey and Jerry Hume contributed to this story.