ORLANDO, Florida — Critics are blasting Florida Gov. Rick Scott over a new campaign ad, accusing Scott of using Hurricane Michael for political gains.
- Critics: Scott's latest ad on response to Michael was for political gains
- Scott’s campaign called Nelson 'hypocrite' for criticizing political ad
- RELATED: Scott Pours Another $18M into Senate Campaign War Chest, Records Show
Scott, a two term Republican governor, is running to unseat Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.
The Scott For Florida campaign released a new ad Tuesday titled “Leading”, highlighting the governor’s response in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
The Category 4 storm decimated areas of the panhandle region on October 10, killing at least 29 people, including 19 in Florida.
The full recovery is expected to take months, if not years for some.
Nelson accused the governor of using state resources -- and the deadly storm itself -- to score political points, while also misleading voters.
The ad opens with comparing shots of Scott and Nelson, as a narrator reads: “First, Gov. Scott. He’s leading hurricane recovery, directing relief efforts and even housing state troopers in his own home.”
The video itself first shows Scott helping Florida National Guardsmen unload supplies from a helicopter.
The video was shot and released by the Governor’s Office on October 13, three days before the ad’s release.
The “Leading” ad then shows photos of Scott greeting several dozen Florida Highway Patrol troopers. These photos were also taken by the Governor’s Office and released to reporters on October 11.
The Governor’s Office said at the time that 35 troopers would be sleeping over at the Florida’s Governor Mansion. It is a public, taxpayer owned residence, not private as some say the ad insinuates. The troopers were staying over in Tallahassee before being deployed to the Gulf Coast.
When asked about the discrepancy, a Scott campaign spokeswoman replied “…the Governor’s Mansion is home to the governor and the first family of Florida.”
The Governor’s Office confirmed it shot the video of Scott unloading supplies in the back of a helicopter. A campaign spokeswoman replied to the ad use of this video by saying “…these photos and videos were released publicly, and anyone can use them, including the media and our opponents.”
Aubrey Jewett, Professor of Political Science at University of Central Florida, said campaigns and crisis can be a delicate balance for politicians.
“If you are in office and it looks like you are trying to take advantage of a crisis like a hurricane for political advantage, then that can really backfire, because people really, really do not like that,” Jewett said.
The ad itself was released October 16, one day after the campaign announced on Twitter that Florida First Lady Ann Scott, and a team of surrogates, would be taking over campaign appearances so Scott could remain focused on recovery efforts.
Despite the governor’s apparently absence from the campaign trail, a campaign spokeswoman told Spectrum News “…over the next three weeks, our campaign and our message will be aggressive as ever.”
Scott’s campaign called Nelson a “hypocrite” for criticizing the governor for using Hurricane Michael response videos in a political ad, pointing to a time in 1998 when Bill Nelson highlighted his response to Hurricane Andrew. The ad, which Scott For Florida posted to YouTube on Tuesday, touts Nelson’s response to the massive storm that slammed into Florida in 1992 -- six years before it was used in Nelson’s ad in his bid for Florida Insurance Commissioner.
Scott’s newest ad was in response to a critical ad featuring a Florida Navy veteran.
“This of course includes calling out Sen. Nelson and his democratic allies for attacking Gov. Scott’s military service,” said a Scott campaign spokeswoman.
Scott is often seen wearing a blue and yellow “Navy” ball cap, a public reference to his service. Scott joined the Navy in 1979, serving for nearly 30 months.
In Scott’s ad “Leading," the narrator says, “Sen. Nelson is running false attack ads mocking Gov. Scott’s service in the Navy…”
The 30-second ad features Navy Veteran Alan Madison, of Vero Beach, Florida.
“I see Rick Scott wearing that Navy hat everywhere he goes,” Madison said in the ad. “But let me tell you what he did to veterans. His hospital company stole millions defrauding the military’s healthcare program. Scott plead the fifth and walked away with a fortune. And today he’s worth over $200 million bucks. But veterans like me, we got cheated. Governor, this hat represents what the Navy stands for – honor and integrity. My question for you sir, is where’s yours?”
VoteVets is running ads for various candidates across the U.S. The group has repeatedly called out Scott on Twitter, accusing Scott of defrauding the military healthcare system.
VoteVets also accused the Scott campaign of violating Department of Defense policies by using video of active service members in a campaign ad.
Department of Defense standards require campaigns provide “... prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer” when using photos or videos of active personnel in political advertisements.
Calls to the Department of Defense and Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office were pointed back to the Florida National Guard. A spokeswoman for the Florida National Guard told Spectrum News that they were not aware of any policy violations, considering the video was shot by the Governor’s Office, who is also commander of the state’s National Guard force, but is not individually an active member of the forces.
The ads are the latest rounds in what is already a bitter political battle.
Late Wednesday, CNN announced it was canceling an anticipated Senate debate after Scott nor Nelson’s campaigns could agree on a makeup debate date. The previous debate scheduled for October 16 was canceled because of Hurricane Michael.
Florida’s race is now the second most expensive Senate race in the U.S.
Recent financial filings show Governor Rick Scott has recently poured another $18 million into his senate campaign. Between personal donations and outside contributions, Scott’s campaign has raised more than $54 million, with $2 million remaining cash on hand. Nelson’s campaign has raised nearly $24 million, with $8.5 million cash still on hand.