Elections

Top Republicans love Rubio again — except for Gov. Rick Scott

Sen. Marco Rubio greets people outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 22, 2016.
Sen. Marco Rubio greets people outside his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 22, 2016. AP

Gov. Rick Scott did Marco Rubio no favors by offering public encouragement Thursday to a self-funding Republican who harbors ambitions of ending Rubio’s career in the U.S. Senate.

Scott did not outrightly endorse Manatee County real estate developer Carlos Beruff in the GOP primary but offered clear encouragement for him to press on despite Rubio’s announcing this week that he had changed his mind and will seek re-election to the U.S. Senate.

“Carlos Beruff is a good friend of mine, a businessman and an outsider to politics,” Scott said in a statement. “The voters of Florida deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Senator Rubio and make their own decision.”

Scott did not mention Republican Todd Wilcox, who also remains in the race.

Despite pressure from other state and national Republicans to drop out and get behind Rubio, Beruff is vowing to spend up to $20 million of his own money on the Aug. 30 primary.

“We have the money and the resources to make sure Republican voters look at what he said he was going to do and what he actually did,” Beruff told Panama City voters Wednesday when asked why he thinks he can beat Rubio, who just four months ago was a top-tier candidate for the White House.

Carlos Beruff is a good friend of mine, a businessman and an outsider to politics. The voters of Florida deserve the opportunity to consider his candidacy alongside Senator Rubio and make their own decision.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Beruff said he spoke to Scott on Wednesday after Rubio announced his decision to run again.

“I talked to him yesterday,” Beruff said during an interview Thursday in Miami. “I said, ‘Now we know where to focus.’ ”

The developer couldn’t remember if he called Scott or Scott called him — it was a phone-tag situation, he said — but he said he keeps in frequent touch with the governor. They’ve spoken every few days or once a week since before Beruff became a candidate, he said.

During the campaign speech in Panama City, Beruff emphasized the need for business people with real world experience, making reference to Scott by name as evidence.

“At the end of the day business people have a better track record of fixing problems than politicians,” Beruff said.

Many of the same people who helped get Scott elected in 2010 have shifted to help Carlos Beruff.

In his statement Thursday, Scott returned the favor, noting that Beruff’s campaign reminds him of his 2010 campaign against Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

“When I ran for office in 2010, I was a political outsider and the entire Republican establishment was against me,” Scott said. “They already had their hand-picked candidate, and it wasn’t me. But the voters of Florida spoke and I was elected governor.”

Beruff said he knows beating Rubio is going to be tough, especially with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans putting their weight behind him.

“I’m not an idiot; I don’t live in la-la land,” he said.

But Beruff said he’s going to continue to point out Rubio’s missed votes in the Senate while running for president and his lack of experience outside of politics.

“If we keep sending people up to Washington who have never done anything in their lives, how are they going to fix the real problems we’ve got?” Beruff said.

Many of the same people who helped get Scott elected in 2010 have shifted to help Beruff. Beruff’s campaign manager, communications director and polling consultant all worked on Scott’s 2010 campaign. And Beruff’s campaign confirmed it has hired as a consultant Scott’s former chief of staff, Melissa Sellers, now married and known as Melissa Stone.

Scott’s non-endorsement of Beruff is not far off from the governor’s talking points ahead of the presidential primary in March. Scott publicly supported Donald Trump in a USA Today op-ed yet refused to say he was endorsing the Republican frontrunner.

But he stands in stark contrast to other state and national Republicans. Former presidential rivals Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump already have gone on record in support of Rubio’s seeking re-election.

Former presidential rivals Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump already have gone on record in support of Marco Rubio’s seeking re-election.

The Republican Party of Florida released a statement Wednesday welcoming Rubio to the race and extolling him as a “bold leader who is focused on real solutions to the issues facing Floridians.”

And the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced Wednesday it would give “full support” to Rubio, even though Beruff and Wilcox remain in the race.

While the sitting governor’s not endorsing an incumbent senator of his own party might be unusual in many states, those who have watched Scott and Rubio said the two have not had a very close relationship since both were elected in 2010.

Rubio campaigned with Scott during his 2014 re-election campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist, but Scott did not help Rubio in his bid for the White House. Also, Scott and Rubio have rarely done public events with each other since both took office.

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