It’s increasingly clear that if and when Gov. Rick Scott finally revs the engine on his campaign for U.S. Senate, he will face attacks not just from Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson but also from countless other Democrats up and down the ballot in Florida.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine of Miami Beach has an anti-offshore drilling TV ad airing that scoff’s at Florida’s "governor who denies climate change." St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman similarly aired TV ads tying challenger Rick Baker to Scott to depict Baker as an extremist weak on climate change.
Democratic gubernatorial candidates Chris King, Gwen Graham and Andrew Gillum are all over the state accusing Scott of doing little to grow Florida out of a low-wage economy, of failing to protect nursing home residents during Hurricane Irma and embracing tax policies that help large corporations far more than working Floridians.
"A majority of Florida’s counties, especially those in rural areas, are actually worse off today than they were before the recession hit. Nearly half of Florida households (45 percent) qualify as working poor and struggle to afford even basic necessities like health care, transportation and housing despite being employed," declares the Democratic For Our Future Action Fund’s website, ricksrecession.com, citing data from the Florida Chamber Foundation.
The economy and management of the state are widely seen as the strongest parts of Scott’s image, but those are among the chief targets for Democrats. The super wealthy, former hospital chain CEO is not only a tireless money-raiser but has the ability at any time to put tens of millions of dollars into a campaign. He is likely to have a significant financial edge over Nelson in a U.S. Senate race, but Nelson’s spending should be amplified considerably by the anti-Scott message coming from other Democrats running for local, state and federal office slamming the direction Florida has headed under Scott and two decades of one-party rule.
Ironically, the growing chorus of attacks on Scott — and increasingly common speculation that he might not run against Nelson after all — comes as Democrats and Republicans alike say their internal polling shows Scott perceived especially well among Florida voters. His ubiquitous presence on TV during Hurricane Irma helped his image considerably.
"I’m not a candidate. I’ve been clear that I haven’t decided what I’m going to do," Scott told the Advocate newspaper in Louisiana during a recent job-poaching trip.
The safe bet is that Scott will run. Democrats would be wise to avoid underestimating him, and Scott would be wise not to underestimate his vulnerability.
DeSantis kicks off in Palm Beach
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis was raised mainly in Pinellas County, Dunedin, and now resides in Flagler County. But when he formally kicks off his campaign for governor, it will be in Palm Beach County.
DeSantis has scheduled a kickoff rally for 11 a.m. Jan. 29. The South Florida location should signal that the Donald Trump-backed contender is more than a regional candidate.
Last week, on the heels of Trump’s endorsement, the congressman won the Sean Hannity primary, too.
"I’ve known you all these years," Hannity told DeSantis during a radio interview. "I cannot more enthusiastically endorse and completely support your run, and I really think the people of Florida will be blessed because I know what a strong leader you are."
Candidate Gillum proposes tax increase
Gillum made the unusual move of proposing an tax increase while on the campaign trail Friday. The Democratic mayor of Tallahassee said if elected, he would increase Florida’s corporate tax rate to 7.75 percent, up from the current 5.5 percent. That increase would generate $1 billion in increased annual revenue, which he said he would use to boost education funding.
"Miami was short-listed as we’re competing in this contest (for Amazon’s new headquarters)," Gillum said. "What is Amazon looking for? .?.?. Not only do we want a friendly environment for businesses to call home, but we also want to have an environment where they’re guaranteed a workforce that is prepared."
Eliminating corporate taxes was a big campaign promise of Gov. Scott, which he hasn’t completely fulfilled. He has, however, raised the threshold for taxable corporate income.
Graham takes lead in Leon County
Among the unusual characteristics of the Democratic gubernatorial primary is the presence of two Tallahassee residents, Mayor Gillum and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham.
Which one would carry overwhelmingly Democratic Leon County today? Graham easily, according to an internal poll by SEA Polling & Strategic Design. Graham receives 43 percent support, Gillum 29 percent, Levine 3 percent, King 2 percent and undecided 23 percent in the Jan. 8-11 telephone survey of 300 likely general election voters. (Margin of error is plus or minus 5.6 percent.)
Emily L. Mahoney contributed.