Have you seen this man? On campaign trail, Rick Scott goes missing

Shown here at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, Gov. Rick Scott has been mostly absent from this year's campaign trail. [AP Photo | Matt Rourke]
Shown here at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, Gov. Rick Scott has been mostly absent from this year's campaign trail. [AP Photo | Matt Rourke]
Published Oct. 28, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Across the nation, governors who aren't even on the ballot are using their political muscle to drag fellow Republicans to victory in a year in which Donald Trump has created uncertainty at the top of the ticket.

In Maryland, first-term Gov. Larry Hogan is hitting the trail for key congressional races. In Wisconsin and Ohio, Scott Walker and John Kasich have done bus tours and are frequently with Republican senators battling for re-election.

But in Florida, where U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republicans are fighting for their political lives, Gov. Rick Scott is missing from the campaign trail.

When asked by the Times/Herald if he had any campaign stops planned, Scott replied: "There's none on the calendar."

Two years ago, Rubio and other congressional candidates joined Scott on a campaign bus tour when he battled Democrat Charlie Crist for re-election.

This year, however, not even Trump has been able to lure Scott onto the trail. Trump has made 19 campaign stops in Florida since the end of July. Scott didn't attend any of them.

Trump held a rally in Collier County on Sunday when Scott, who lives in nearby Naples, was in town. And then on Tuesday in Tallahassee, Scott was 8 miles from a nearby Trump rally. Scott said he had no time to meet with him before either stop. Scott said on Tuesday he had a dinner party with almost 50 people at the Governor's Mansion and could not leave them for Trump.

Scott said he still supports Trump. And he is running a political fundraising committee, Rebuilding America Now, that has raised more than $19 million to support him. Because super PACs like Scott's are prohibited from directly coordinating with campaigns, Scott's absence from Trump's rallies — while not legally required — helps avoid perceptions that they are working on campaign strategy together.

Outside of the PAC donations, Scott has not personally written any checks to Trump's campaign like he did in past presidential races. In 2008 and 2012, Scott donated more than $122,000 to John McCain, Mitt Romney and political committees that supported their campaigns.

"My first job is to represent the 20.6 million people who live in the state," said Scott, adding he's busy working on combating Zika and on hurricane recovery efforts.

"That's my primary focus right now," Scott said. "If there is the opportunity, I will do what I can to help people."

In 2000 and 2004, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hit the campaign trail with Republican U.S. Senate candidates. And in 2008, Crist, then a Republican governor, hit the road in tight congressional races.

Scott has long had a "go-it-alone style" which makes him less likely to volunteer to help candidates down ballot, said Aubrey Jewett, who teaches political science at the University of Central Florida. But Jewett said he'd be surprised if candidates are beating down Scott's door asking for help.

"He's just not that popular," Jewett said.

Scott is a two-term governor who won re-election two years ago. In both races Scott won by fewer than 70,000 votes in a state with more than 12 million voters. Quinnipiac University has polled Floridians 28 times over the job Scott is doing since he took office in 2011. Not once has more than 45 percent approved. By contrast, Kasich hasn't dropped below 55 percent approval in the past two years of Q-polls.

Candidates in close races like Miami Florida Senate candidate Frank Artiles, a Republican, have no need for Scott.

"I've been running my own campaign from day one," said Artiles who is facing Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, in one of the tightest races for the Florida Senate. Scott's conservative currency doesn't go far in this district, which has 4,500 more Democrats than Republicans.

Although Scott has spent more than $2 million this year out of a political action committee he controls in Florida called Let's Get to Work, he has given no donations to Republican candidates for any state offices. Scott did spend more than $20,000 on polling in September, according to a state campaign finance report. Then on Monday his PAC released partial results from an internal poll showing 54 percent of voters approve of the job Scott is doing — far higher than what most public polling has ever shown.

Compare that to Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, who has used a political action committee he runs called Florida Grown to give the maximum $1,000 donation to each of five Florida Senate candidates and two state House candidates in tight contests.

"Scott has had a pretty icy relationship with the Republican Party of Florida since he got elected," Jewett said. "When he ran for office in 2010 he attacked the party establishment and beat their candidate (then-Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum). He really hasn't done much to mend those fences."

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Jeremy Wallace can be reached at Follow @JeremySWallace.