Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will run for U.S. Senate, hoping to unseat three-term incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in what could become one of the most contentious and expensive Senate races this year.
The term-limited governor confirmed widespread speculation that he was planning to run in an interview with Politico published Monday morning, before making an official announcement in Orlando.
“You’re probably surprised, but I’m going to announce I’m running for senator,” he told Politico. “You’re shocked, right?”
Scott, a businessman and health care executive before he entered politics in 2010, has already raised more than a million dollars through his super PAC and met with GOP donors last month.
President Donald Trump has frequently urged Scott to run. Democrats, who hope to make November’s midterm elections a referendum on Trump, will undoubtedly tie the president to Scott, one of his major allies.
But Scott, who has recently broken with the Trump administration on a few issues, dismissed the idea that he was “a Donald Trump Republican.” Scott recently opposed the Interior Department’s plan to dramatically expand offshore oil drilling and Trump’s call for training certain teachers to carry guns to help prevent mass shootings.
“If it’s good for us, I’m going to support what the White House wants to do,” he said Monday. “If it’s not good for Florida, I’m going to oppose. I’m not going to be a rubber stamp for anybody.”
Scott has frequently reversed his positions on top issues like offshore drilling and Medicaid expansion. Last month, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee started running digital ads accusing him of “looking out for himself, not doing what’s best for Floridians.” Last week, the DSCC launched a website called SelfServingScott.com.
“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 said Monday in a statement.
Scott, 65, narrowly edged out Nelson, 75, in a prospective poll conducted by Clearview Research last month, CBS Miami reported. A poll of likely voters gave Scott 43.3 percent of support, two percentage points ahead of the incumbent.
“While it is still very early to make any predictions, it is clear that this off-year election could come down to two simple factors: turnout and gaining margins among NPA (no party affiliation) voters,” Steve Vancore, president of Clearview Research, told CBS Miami.
The governor’s announcement comes amid the turbulent aftermath of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Scott has endured an onslaught of criticism as teenage survivors advocate for public officials to cut ties with the National Rifle Association.
Signing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raises the minimum age for buying guns in the state from 18 to 21 and implements a three-day waiting period for such sales, may help Scott gain popularity with swing voters. However, the NRA, which supported Scott in previous campaigns, is currently suing the state over these measures.
Scott’s past career in health care has haunted him in previous campaigns. From 1987 to 1997, he helmed Columbia/HCA, making it one of the country’s largest health care companies. He also was at the center of one of the biggest Medicare fraud cases in the U.S. Under Scott’s tenure, Columbia billed Medicare and Medicaid for tests that had not been ordered and falsely coded patient records to increase hospital reimbursements. A federal investigation went public in 1997 and Scott resigned four months later, according to Politifact.
This story has been updated with more background on Scott and his official announcement, as well as comments from Nelson.