Rick Scott announces challenge to Nelson for Senate seat in Florida

Rick Scott announces challenge to Nelson for Senate seat in Florida
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced on Monday that he’ll challenge Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump The Hill's 12:30 Report — Kavanaugh controversy consumes Washington | Kavanaugh slated to testify Monday | Allegations shake up midterms Florida governor booed out of restaurant over red tide algae issues MORE (D), setting up a marquee battle that could help decide which party controls the Senate.

Scott sought to paint himself as an outsider and vowed to "shake up Washington" if elected in November, without naming Nelson during his speech.

“We have to all acknowledge that Washington’s a disaster. There’s a lot of tired thinking up there. Here’s what we shouldn’t be doing—we shouldn’t be sending the same types of people to Washington,” Scott told supporters at his campaign launch in Orlando.

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“I’m not accepting the same result. We can change Washington, we must change Washington, we will change Washington together.”

Scott spent the bulk of his speech touting the economic recovery and growth of Florida over the past seven years he served as governor, foreshadowing the messaging of his Senate campaign.

He ticked through what his administration has accomplished which includes job creation, cutting regulations, growing tourism and tax and debt reduction.

“People are flocking to Florida because this is where people can live the dream of this country,” Scott said. “Now we’ve got to take that same mission to DC.”

Scott’s long-awaited announcement ends months of speculation and sets up what is expected to be the costliest race of the cycle against Nelson, a three-term incumbent.

It will also serve as a test for President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE given the White House's efforts to recruit Scott for the race. Trump won Florida in 2016's presidential contest by a little more than a percentage point.

Scott, who because of term limits cannot run for a third term as governor, is a close ally of Trump. While Trump carried the state, Democrats and even some Republican believe that his closeness to Trump could be a liability if the president’s approval numbers don’t improve.

Scott notably didn’t name Trump during his speech, but his decision to repeatedly rail against Washington borrows the same approach that the president used in his 2016 campaign. At Monday’s event, Scott, 65, called for term limits in Congress to “stop career politicians.”

The governor has also made national headlines for leading Florida during Hurricane Irma late last year and the recent deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., which has elevated the debate over gun policy. Both are likely to become flashpoints during the Senate race.

He steered clear of mentioning the gun bill he signed into law in early March that raises the minimum age to buy a firearm and allows some teachers to be armed, which will be decided at the local level.

Instead, Scott focused on how the state helped Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria which ravaged the island last year. More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have come to Florida since the hurricane.

“This is the melting pot of the world. This state showed up and we helped Puerto Rico who came here and we showed up in Puerto Rico,” Scott said. “We do that in this state.”

Nelson is one of 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection in a state that Trump carried. A February poll from Quinnipiac showed him with a 4-point edge over Scott.

"I’ve always run every race like there’s no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent,” Nelson said in brief statement following Scott’s announcement.

“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."

Scott has the ability to self-fund his bid, while Nelson has stockpiled cash, ending 2017 with $8 million in his campaign account. 

That means that for the second cycle in a row, Florida is likely to host the most expensive Senate race. In 2016, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRubio unloads on Turkish chef for 'feasting' Venezuela's Maduro: 'I got pissed' For Poland, a time for justice Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh MORE's (R) reelection race cost all sides nearly $60 million.

Outside groups are expected to flood the airwaves for both sides.

Updated: 12:03 p.m.