Rick Scott and Anne Scott. [AP]
Gov. Rick Scott announced his long-expected run for the U.S. Senate today in an Orlando rally, setting the stage for a contentious and expensive battle against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
"Today, with my wife by my side, I’m announcing I’m running for U.S. Senate for the great state of Florida," Scott said in a sweaty construction company warehouse in Orlando, surrounded by wooden pallets and supporters fanning themselves with his campaign signs.
He kicked off his campaign by taking direct aim at Nelson, who was first elected to Senate in 2001, by calling for term limits for members of Congress.
"We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington," he said. "This concept of career politicians has got to stop."
Nelson, in response, sought to project confidence Monday.
"I've always run every race like there's no tomorrow – regardless of my opponent," Nelson said in a statement. "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."
The race between the two-term governor and three-term senator promises to be a test of the popularity of President Donald Trump. Scott was an early and consistent supporter of the president, which Nelson is expected to exploit.
Scott did not mention Trump, but he picked up Trump's message, promising to "fix" Washington and denouncing the "tired old thinking" in the nation's capital.
"We gotta stop sending talkers to Washington. Let's send some doers to Washington," he said.
"Drain the swamp!" someone in the audience yelled.
The race between Scott and Nelson is one of the most expensive and closely watched in the nation, and it's likely to be close.
Scott, a 65-year-old disgraced former health care executive, used his millions to eke out narrow wins in both races for governor in 2010 and 2014. He frequently generated controversy during his governorship, and he's never been considered an especially beloved or charismatic figure on the campaign trail.
But his opponent, whom Floridians have been voting for since the 1970s, is a moderate Democrat with few distinctions during his 17 years in the Senate. The 75-year-old is Florida's only Democrat currently elected to statewide office.
Scott on Monday made a clear play for a constituency he thinks can help him win: Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria. He was introduced at the rally by the territory's lieutenant governor, Luis G. Rivera-Marin, and Scott closed his speech in Spanish.
Scott came out of nowhere in 2010 to win his first elected office. He was known primarily as the health care executive who oversaw massive health care fraud. His company, Columbia/HCA, paid a record $1.7 billion in fines and pleaded guilty to 14 felonies.
But he found success running on an obsessive jobs platform at the height of the Great Recession. That message was apparently so successful that Scott repeated it verbatim Monday, in both slogan - "Let's get to work" - and style - U.S. Navy baseball hat and blue dress shirt with rolled-up sleeves.
Scott tried to cast himself as an outsider who reformed Tallahassee politics.
"I didn’t fit into Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider games," he said. "And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington, either."
Scott will be in Fort Myers at Sun Harvest Citrus for a second rally at 2:30 p.m. today, and he's expected to be in Hialeah for another rally Tuesday afternoon.