Gov. Rick Scott went out of his way Thursday to lavish praise on state Rep. Richard Corcoran, the outgoing House speaker who's expected to join an unpredictable Republican primary for governor next month.
At a veterans event in Orange Park, Scott was asked about criticism over guns from Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a GOP candidate for governor.
"With regard to the school safety bill, I'm proud of what I signed," Scott told reporters. "The school safety bill wouldn't have passed without the speaker's hard work."
Scott's comments are another sign that his alliance with Corcoran, which blossomed at the end of the 2017 legislative session, is already a factor in the 2018 race. When Corcoran is accused of weakening gun laws, he can deflect the criticism by saying he stood with the governor who remains popular with the Republican base.
The bill (HB 7026) passed the House 67-50, as 10 Democrats joined 57 Republicans in the 76-member GOP caucus.
The NRA blasted Scott and Corcoran for supporting the legislation and has filed a lawsuit challenging the law. Historically, the gun lobby has played a significant role in state politics, especially in Republican primaries.
Scott knows where public opinion is on gun law restrictions. He travels the state incessantly and his political committee polls the public extensively.
Scott has the luxury of having only a general election, but Putnam faces criticism from his primary rivals for not being a real conservative, so he can't be at odds with the NRA.
At the same time, Scott, who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, must stake out more moderate stands to appeal to November voters.