Gov. Rick Scott eyeing run for U.S. Senate — in 2018

Gov. Rick Scott says he’s focused on his current term as governor but could run for U.S. Senate in 2018, when his term is over.
Gov. Rick Scott says he’s focused on his current term as governor but could run for U.S. Senate in 2018, when his term is over.
Published March 19, 2015

You might have seen Gov. Rick Scott recently talking to you in a TV ad — "We are expanding our industries, investing in our ports, making a record commitment to you, devoting more resources to education'' — and wondered if he's running for office again.

That's the plan, but not right away.

Scott, 62, has told several top Republican fundraisers that he's interested in running for U.S. Senate. It would be in 2018, when Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson's third term ends, rather than in 2016, when a potentially open U.S. Senate seat is enticing plenty of politicians and Scott will still be in the middle of his second term.

The governor brushed off talk of his political future Wednesday.

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

As uncomfortable as the CEO-turned-governor often seems in the political world, the U.S. Senate makes sense given that Scott initially seemed far more interested in federal issues than in Florida issues.

The former hospital chain executive started raising his political profile in 2009 by funding a political committee against the Affordable Care Act. By the time he turned his attention to running for office in Florida in 2010, Marco Rubio was well on his way to grabbing the Republican U.S. Senate nomination by moving to the right of then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Winning the Republican gubernatorial nomination against then-frontrunner Bill McCollum looked much more viable for Scott.

Running in a nonpresidential campaign year with lower Democratic turnout also makes more sense for Scott. He barely won his two gubernatorial races despite a GOP turnout advantage in both midterm election cycles and dramatically outspending his opponents, Alex Sink in 2010 and Crist in 2014.

Scott's political team had been worried about Sen. Nelson jumping into last year's governor's race, but it's no sure thing Nelson will seek a fourth term. Florida's senior senator has started raising money for his re-election. He will be 76 in 2018.

Rubio is looking seriously at running for president in 2016 and has said that if he does, he would rule out running for a second Senate term if his presidential campaign failed to gain traction. Republicans widely expected to run for Rubio's seat include Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater of West Palm Beach and Scott's lieutenant governor, Carlos Lopez-Cantera. Democratic contenders in 2016 include U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter and Alan Grayson of Orlando.

Times/Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.