Florida Gov. Rick Scott launches Senate bid vs. Bill Nelson

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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What You Need to Know: Rick Scott

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Update 12:45 p.m. April 9: Calling Washington "horribly dysfunctional," Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that he will challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in an election that could be one of the most expensive and highly-watched in the nation.

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The Republican governor formally announced Monday morning his campaign to unseat Florida's only statewide-elected Democrat.

During his announcement, Scott criticized "career politicians" and called for term limits for members of Congress.

"This concept of career politicians has got to stop," Scott said. "We have to have term limits on Congress. We're not going to see a change in Washington if we don't have term limits on Congress."

Scott is a multi-millionaire who never ran for office before he ran for governor in 2010.

He rode into office as part of the tea party movement and called for massive budget and tax cuts, but he was forced to scale back his plans amid opposition from the GOP-controlled legislature. He also changed his hard-line positions on immigration.

"On this day, eight years ago, I did something that everyone told me not to do -- I announced that I was going to run for governor of Florida," Scott said at Monday's rally. "They said a business-person with no experience in government couldn't run the state. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you ignore the naysayers and the critics."

Scott was first elected governor in 2010, but he cannot run again because of term limits.

Original report: After two years of speculation and some public arm-twisting from President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will announce Monday morning that he's running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

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The two-term Republican governor, barred by law from seeking a third term, has scheduled a morning event at a construction company headquarters in Orlando and a 2 p.m. event at a citrus packing house in Fort Myers.

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Scott’s entrance sets up a nationally watched race that could be the most expensive Senate battle of 2018. With Republicans holding a slender majority of 51 seats in the Senate, Florida will be among the key states to determine which party controls the chamber in 2019.

Nelson has been elected to the Senate three times — but he has never beaten a candidate with the name recognition, fundraising prowess and personal wealth of Scott.

Scott has won the governorship of America’s largest swing state two times — but he ran during the national Republican wave years of 2010 and 2014 and eked out victories with less than 49 percent of the vote each time.

Historical trends and recent polls point toward a difficult environment for GOP candidates this year with Republican Trump in the White House.

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Scott was an early cheerleader for Trump and has a close relationship with the president. Trump has publicly urged Scott to run for Senate.

During a visit to Miami last June to tighten some travel and trade restrictions on Cuba, Trump shared a stage with Scott and other officials. He called the Florida governor "my good friend" and said, "He's doing a great job. Oh, I hope he runs for the Senate. I know I'm not supposed to say that. I hope he runs for the Senate. Rick, are you running?"

Then in September, visiting Southwest Florida to survey damage from Hurricane Irma, Trump made another Senate plea after saying said Scott had done an "incredible" job responding to the storm and noting he faces term limits as governor this year.

“I have to say that, what do I know, but I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate. I don’t know what he’s going to do but I know that at a certain point it ends for you and we can’t let it end. So I hope he runs for Senate,” Trump said.

During a stop in West Palm Beach last week, Nelson said he's ready for the challenge.

“I always treat a challenger very seriously and I run like there’s no tomorrow,” Nelson said.

Nelson said Scott “has not been in touch with the state of Florida – not only on massacres and guns but things like climate change, sea level rise, funding for schools and go right on down the list, including drilling offshore. So, folks are going to have a real, real choice.”

Scott has emphasized jobs and the economy throughout his campaigns and his two terms as governor.

Florida has added nearly 1.5 million private sector jobs since Scott took office in January 2011 and seen its unemployment rate shrink from 10.7 percent to 3.9 percent during that time.

Nelson says Scott doesn’t deserve credit for the state’s improved economy.

“The state of Florida came back from the deep recession just like the entire country did…So goes the national economy, so went Florida’s,” Nelson said.

But Florida has outperformed the nation and most individual states in job growth.

Private sector employment has grown by about 20 percent in Florida since Scott took office, compared to about 16 percent for the rest of the U.S. over the same period, according to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics figures. Florida’s 10.7 percent unemployment rate in January 2011 was worse than the nation’s 9.1 percent jobless rate at the time; in February, the state’s 3.9 percent unemployment rate was better than the nation’s 4.1 percent rate.

“Florida’s in far better shape than it was eight years ago,” said Susie Wiles, who guided Scott’s stunning 2010 Republican primary victory over establishment favorite Bill McCollum and headed Trump’s 2016 general election effort in Florida.

Wiles, who isn’t involved in Scott’s 2018 campaign, acknowledged that the party that controls the White House traditionally faces difficulty in midterm elections. But she said Scott should overcome that.

"If the governor was running as an extension of the president, that's one set of circumstances. He's not. He has an eight-year record that's platinum…He's really standing on his own two feet," Wiles said.

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