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Will Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis follow their Florida predecessors and consider running for president?

Times Political Editor Adam C. Smith writes that if Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis are anything like their predecessors in the governor's mansion, they will strongly consider a run for U.S. president.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, shakes hands with gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis as he introduces him to supporters last year.. [Associated Press]
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, left, shakes hands with gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis as he introduces him to supporters last year.. [Associated Press]
Published Jan. 3, 2019|Updated Jan. 3, 2019

A joke attributed to Lyndon Johnson is that whenever most U.S. senators look in the mirror they see a president. More precisely, most Florida governors see a president in the mirror — and it's a safe bet that includes outgoing Gov. Rick Scott and incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Not once have Americans nominated a Floridian for president or vice president, but in the past half century every governor except one-term Bob Martinez and Lawton Chiles, who died in office, actively campaigned for president or vice president.

We surveyed more than 150 Florida political experts and practitioners last month, and more than eight in 10 predicted Scott will seriously explore running for president in the future. Two thirds said DeSantis would.

Yes, it's absurd to talk about a President DeSantis before he's moved into the governor's office, but it's a baseline to assess his next four to eight years leading America's biggest battleground state.

DeSantis is the least interesting governor-elect Florida has seen in decades — which is not an insult. In the Donald Trump era, Floridians may find uninteresting a welcome relief from the drama in Washington.

But there is there is no looming story line for the incoming governor, no siren alerting change.

Jeb Bush swept into office 20 years ago, promising a new era of reform-minded, activist conservatism. He delivered, proving to be anything but "Low Energy Jeb."

Charlie Crist followed with the promise of a softer, friendlier and far more bipartisan brand of leadership. He mostly delivered and nearly killed his political career.

Rick Scott took office as a tea party outsider and businessman who would upend Tallahassee and push through his three-pronged agenda: Jobs, jobs, jobs. He had a rocky start, replaced the outsiders in his administration with Tallahassee establishment types, and wound up governing as a conventional Republican politician. But Scott can credibly say he fulfilled his campaign pledge on jobs.

DeSantis, 40, so far has signaled status quo. He won office offering little agenda beyond following the path laid out by Gov. Scott. He is a Trump cheerleader, but shows no interest in draining the Tallahassee swamp. In fact, he is surrounding himself with denizens of the state capital swamp.

The Ivy League-educated, former Navy lawyer and former congressman has proven to be an impatient politician who keeps a steady eye on the next potential elected office. He shares that trait with Crist and with Sen. Marco Rubio, whose interplay with Sen. Scott should be fun to watch as they compete for the spotlight.

Come 2024, when Trump completes his second term or a Democratic president faces reelection, Rubio would be a 14-year Senate incumbent. Scott would be looking at running for a second term.

That Scott opted not to step down a few days early as governor and hurt his seniority in the Senate suggests he has little interest in remaining long in that job.

Gov. DeSantis presumably hopes to be in the middle of his second term as governor come 2024. He would be the Republican leader of a mega swing state without the baggage of being a Washington politician. That automatically makes him a credible presidential candidate — assuming he has a story of Sunshine State success to sell.

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