On Halloween this Wednesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will dress up as a candidate who wants to appear with President Trump on the campaign trail.
Scott, a Republican and two-term governor, has kept the president at arm’s length much of this year during his run for a U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Bill Nelson, who is seeking reelection to a fourth term.
Scott was a prominent backer of Trump in 2016. But once he entered the Senate race, he took a much more cautious approach. Florida, for some time, has been an evenly divided state politically, and Trump’s approval rating in the state has consistently been underwater.
Scott looked for ways to distance himself from Trump on policy as well. When Trump cast doubt on the official death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria in the fall of 2017, saying estimates of as many as 3,000 dead were intended to make him “look as bad as possible,” Scott quickly shot back.
“I disagree with [Trump],” Scott tweeted. He said he believed estimates of “thousands” dead to be accurate. Trump had tweeted that only “6 to 18” people had died from the storm. Even the state’s Republican candidate for governor, Ron DeSantis, publicly broke with Trump on the issue.
I disagree with @POTUS– an independent study said thousands were lost and Gov. Rosselló agreed. I’ve been to Puerto Rico 7 times & saw devastation firsthand. The loss of any life is tragic; the extent of lives lost as a result of Maria is heart wrenching. I’ll continue to help PR
— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) September 13, 2018
Scott noted at the time that he had visited Puerto Rico seven times, and Scott’s top campaign adviser, Curt Anderson, recently told Yahoo News the same thing.
Scott’s rebuttal of Trump’s position on the issue was “our biggest break with Trump,” Anderson said.
The Scott campaign ran Spanish-language ads saying the Republican had “confronted President Trump when he disagrees with him.”
Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale told Yahoo News that Scott’s focus on responding to the Puerto Rico disaster was good politics, given that Puerto Ricans make up a growing voting bloc in Florida politics.
“They’ve been very smart in finding ways in chipping away at the Democratic coalition,” Schale said.
After Hurricane Michael devastated portions of the Panhandle on Oct. 10, Scott said he would stop campaigning to devote his time to the relief effort. That gave him a convenient excuse to avoid appearing with Trump, who was planning a rally in Fort Myers on Halloween and another as yet undetermined Florida stop to campaign with DeSantis before the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
A week ago, Scott allies told the New York Times that the governor would likely skip the Trump rally on Halloween. The Times also reported that Scott’s stiff arm of the president had “drawn notice in the White House.”
On Friday, Scott’s campaign said he would in fact appear with Trump and DeSantis at the Wednesday rally.
Floridians have already been casting ballots in early voting in some localities for a week, and Republicans are turning out in big numbers, according to multiple analyses.
“I feel better about where my side is today than I did last week, but I don’t feel great,” Schale wrote in his daily update on early voting returns.
Scott held a small lead over Nelson during the summer, when he was outspending the Democrat on TV advertising. But the former health care executive was unable to pull away from Nelson, and the race has been as tight as they come all fall, though Anderson has insisted the Scott campaign’s internal polls show him leading.
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