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Gov. Rick Scott has spent nearly $300,000 on political consultants since April

Gov. Rick Scott, facing a state term-limit law, has never hidden his interest in national politics.
Gov. Rick Scott, facing a state term-limit law, has never hidden his interest in national politics.
Published Jul. 4, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — For someone who cannot seek re-election, Gov. Rick Scott is spending a whole lot of money on political consultants, adding fuel to speculation that he is aiming to run for the U.S. Senate in 2018.

This week, Scott's Let's Get to Work political fundraising committee reported paying $26,000 to a pair of political consulting firms, one in Miami that specializes in Hispanic outreach and the other based in Tallahassee. With that, Let's Get to Work has now spent $292,616 on eight different political consulting firms just since April 1 on a wide range of services, including work on surveys, research, advertising and general consulting.

Scott has told some big political donors that he is interested in running for the Senate in 2018. But publicly, Scott has brushed off the questions by the media about his political future.

Asked in April about running for the Senate, Scott did not directly answer.

"I'm going to keep working on being governor," he said then. "I just got re-elected. We're going to have a good four years. It's exciting."

The amount of money Scott is spending on political consultants this early and with no declared future office ambition is unprecedented, said Darryl Paulson, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and a registered Republican who has written about Florida politics for 30 years.

"He must be looking down the road at what his next job will be," Paulson said.

What specifically those consultants are working on is not clear. Let's Get to Work's chairman John French did not respond to a request for comment.

Scott narrowly won re-election to a second four-year term in November, defeating Democrat Charlie Crist by 1 percentage point. Scott's term runs through 2018, and he cannot seek re-election because Florida law limits a governor to two consecutive four-year terms in office.

And 2018 also happens to be when U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, will be completing his third term in office and facing re-election. Nelson has cruised to re-election in both of his last two campaigns in 2006 and 2012. In 2006 he defeated former Secretary of State Katherine Harris by 20 percentage points. In 2012, he defeated former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV by 13 percentage points.

To be sure, Nelson has had huge victories and Scott's approval ratings have been anemic, but the governor has proven he can win tight contests in Florida even with low marks from Florida voters, Paulson said. He said though Nelson has won easily in his re-elections, he has benefited by running against flawed GOP opponents who struggled to win support of their own party and raise money.

One reason for all the consulting help, Paulson said, could be Scott looking for strategies to improve his poll ratings with Floridians to take on Nelson. Quinnipiac University, a Connecticut college that regularly polls Florida's political landscape, released a survey last month that showed 49 percent of Florida voters disapprove of how Scott has handled his job, despite the state's unemployment rating dropping during his tenure as governor. For Nelson, on the other hand, just 27 percent disapproved of his job performance.

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Scott has never hid his interest in national politics. Before becoming governor he spent more than $5 million of his own money to support a group called Conservatives for Patients' Rights to run national television ads opposing health care reforms proposed by President Barack Obama. More recently, Scott has penned opinion pieces for Washington, D.C., publications, such as the Washington Examiner in April, in which he calls on Congress to pass a balanced budget and criticizes the Affordable Care Act.

Since the start of 2015, Scott has raised $2.9 million in his Let's Get to Work account and spent $2.6 million. Recent donors to the fund include some of the biggest businesses in Florida and the nation. Walt Disney World Park & Resorts, three Florida divisions of the hospital company HCA, and longtime Anheuser-Busch CEO August Busch III were among the donors in June. Disney has been Scott's biggest donor this year, donating $252,000 on June 2, the day Let's Get to Work held what Scott declared was an economic summit that attracted seven 2016 GOP presidential candidates.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

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