VALRICO — Gov. Rick Scott's campaign event Saturday was part political rally, part fiesta.
Scott, the termed-out Republican who's running for senate this year, appeared before a small but spirited crowd of mostly Latino and Latina supporters at El Rico Frappe Latino restaurant in Valrico. He was joined by Puerto Rican Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón, a smattering of local Republican candidates — and a salsa band.
Scott and González-Colón, who endorsed the governor in May, made no major announcements at the event, the goal of which seemed to be to shore up support of the all-important Florida Puerto Rican community ahead of the crucial 2018 elections. Scott entered to the salsa music, and even briefly showed off his dance moves.
Scott's economic record was a key topic of discussion among attendees and politicians alike. Lionel Guzman, the owner of El Rico Frappe Latino, credited Scott for helping his business in brief remarks in Spanish.
González-Colón complimented Scott's response to Hurricane Maria, noting that the governor made seven visits to Puerto Rico after the devastating storm.
"We need to help him out the same way he helped us out during the hurricane," the Congresswoman said.
For his part, Scott, in brief bilingual remarks, urged his supporters to vote in the 2018 midterms. Other candidates at the rally included state Rep. Ross Spano, who's running for 15th Congressional District seat being vacated by the retiring Dennis Ross; and Aakash Patel, who's seeking a spot on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Scott has polled well among Puerto Ricans in recent surveys, a demographic which could prove critical in Scott's tough Senate race against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson.
But Democrats were quick to throw cold water on the event, issuing a press release bashing Scott for being a "lackey" for President Donald Trump.
"It's another photo op day on Scott's Empty Promises Tour. Meanwhile, another day passes with him doing nothing to help thousands of Puerto Rican evacuees who face eminent eviction. We need more affordable housing, yet Scott raided the trust fund," U.S. Rep. Darren Soto said in a statement.
When asked by a reporter at the event whether funds from that affordable trust would be directed to Puerto Rican evacuees, Scott noted the budget he signed in March dedicates millions to building affordable housing.
Republicans in the Florida legislature have drawn criticism in recent years for redirecting affordable housing funds to other causes. The budget signed by Scott in March included about $110 million in affordable housing grants. But lawmakers redirected another $180 million in affordable housing funds to pay for, among other things, a tax cut package.
After the press availability, Scott stayed to mingle with supporters, sipping on a pina colada-flavored frappe.