Friday, April 20, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's 'big week' revs up campaign machine

TALLAHASSEE — By his own account, it has been a great week for Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

After months without a second-in-command, he announced a pick who was well received, and on Friday he unveiled his re-election team. He's criss-crossed the state to tout populist initiatives, like a proposed 10-day, back-to-school sales tax holiday. This weekend, Scott and his campaign committee are expected to rake in the cash through a series of fundraisers headlined by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Like other incumbent governors before him, Scott is finding that you don't need a formal launch to begin revving up the campaign machine.

"This has been a big week," Scott told the audience at the Florida Chamber of Commerce's annual insurance summit Friday. "On Tuesday, I announced that we are going to be able to put more money into (the Department of Children and Families) to hire more investigators and also got to announce the next lieutenant governor of Florida, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. He's going to do a great job."

Republican officials say Scott will have the most expansive campaign in Florida history. He has raised more than $28 million through his "Let's Get to Work" political committee.

Communications director Melissa Sellers is moving from the governor's office to be campaign manager starting Tuesday. Before she joined the governor's office in 2012, Sellers was a regional spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention in Tampa and chief spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Tim Saler will be deputy campaign manager, and Matt Moon will serve as the campaign communications director. Both are moving over from the Republican Party of Florida.

Miguel Fernandez and Darlene Jordan will be co-finance chairs. Fernandez is chairman of MBF Partners, a health care firm based in Coral Gables. Jordan is a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general who was a national finance co-chair for Mitt Romney in 2008.

The team will likely come together this weekend as Scott travels the state for a series of fundraisers headlined by Christie. Democrats have promised to hound him every step of the way for associating with the embattled New Jersey governor, whose administration is accused of causing a massive traffic jam as political payback.

"I don't think there's any bridge Florida Democrats won't cross to make the point that Rick Scott has no business fundraising with a bully from another state," said Joshua Karp, communications director for the Florida Democratic Party.

Florida Republicans stand behind the decision to have Scott campaign with Christie.

"We are grateful to have the RGA (Republican Governors Association) chairman in town this weekend to do some events benefiting the RGA and Rick Scott's re-election campaign," said Susan Hepworth, the Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman.

Republican Party officials don't expect the governor to hold public campaign events until after the legislative session ends.

"The campaign will take care of itself," said state Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who will serve as Scott's campaign chairman. "I think that's what the bottom line is. We'll have plenty of time for that after May."

Scott knows that the policies and issues he supports now will shape the opinion of voters come November.

This week, he began rolling out portions of the budget proposal he will unveil later this month. He discussed transportation funding in Jacksonville on Monday. Tuesday was the announcement in Miami of additional child welfare funding and later in Orlando of more dollars for police training.

He was back in Orlando on Friday for the insurance summit, when he announced his extended back-to-school sales tax holiday proposal. If the Legislature approves, it will be the longest tax holiday since the program began in 1998. And he reminded the audience that he is working to slash auto registration fees, too.

Democrats accuse Scott of trying to trick voters into forgetting about some of his unpopular decisions early in his term by focusing on the feel-good aspects of this year's budget proposal.

"I think he's trying to convince Floridians to forget the first three years of his administration," said state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, leader of the legislative black caucus. Cuts to education, making it harder for felons to get their civil rights restored and requiring food stamp recipients to be tested for drugs are among the policy ideas Williams believes Scott would like voters to ignore.

"He's got to convince voters that have a thin view of him that he's not who they think he is, and he's got to also convince voters who like Charlie Crist that they shouldn't," said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic lawmaker who supports Crist for governor.

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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