Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson included a Tuesday stop at a Homosassa car dealership.
The campaign stump speech at Crystal Chevrolet on 1035 South Suncoast Blvd. came a day after Scott’s campaign announced raising $10.7 million in the first quarter of the Senate campaign. That was more than three times the amount three-time Sen. Nelson raised during the same period. Nelson raised $3.2 million.
With a crowed of about 120 people in the dealership’s showroom to see him, Scott focused on his campaign staples of job creation and getting career politicians out of Washington.
“This state was in trouble,” he said, citing Florida’s economic woes in 2010 when he took office.
Nearly eight years and 1.5 million new jobs later, Scott said, “this state has completely changed.”
Inheriting an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, Scott pointed out that Florida’s unemployment rate is now near 3.8 percent, a product of his efforts to attract businesses to Florida and get people to work, he said.
“We turned this state around and now we have to start on the federal government,” Scott said to a cheering crowd.
Scott formally announced his candidacy April 9, challenging Nelson’s bid for a fourth Senate term. The primary election is Aug. 28 and the general election Nov. 6.
Scott, 65, will likely be Nelson’s toughest challenge since he was first elected in 2000. Although Nelson, 75, won his 2012 election by more than 1 million votes, Nelson could be unseated in 2018 if Florida voters turn out at the same level they did for President Trump in 2016.
The race is also seen as a referendum on Trump and part of the Democrat’s effort to retake the Senate.
Scott and Republicans are casting Nelson as a career Washington politician who hasn’t accomplished much. Democrats are painting Scott as anti-environment and unfairly taking credit for job growth in Florida.
During the campaign stop, the fourth for the day, Scott also focused on his other talking points:
- Scott said he would advocate for term limits in the U.S. House and Senate.
- Any tax hikes should require a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate.
- He advocated for the president to have a line-item veto.
- He said House and Senate representatives should not be paid if they can’t balance the country’s budget.
“These are all ideas to make government work for us,” Scott told the crowd.
“I’m going to go to Washington and work my butt off for you,” he said, adding that he would work as hard in Washington as he did while Florida’s governor.
Businessman and Republican activist Mike Moberly invited Scott to the area for a rally, but his Tropical Window Inc. business was too small to hold the event.
Car dealership owner Steve Lamb volunteered his showroom.
Lamb said he didn’t think Nelson had done a poor job as a Florida senator “but no one understands our state like the governor,” Lamb said. “It’s very different being a Washington senator from Florida than being the governor of Florida.”
Some at the campaign event were more vehement about the sitting senator.
"Bill Nelson, we need to get that guy out of here," said Bob Mitchell, an attendee at the event.
"He (Nelson) has voted against traditional family values and traditional conservative values," candidate for Citrus County Commission District 2 Renee Christopher-McPheeters said. "He's a Democrat, what more can I say?"
"In today's world, we don't hold people accountable," said Peyton Burdette, a member of the Young Republicans and a student at Lecanto High School. "The Republicans' main belief is more accountability. I think that's important in today's society."
But both Scott and Nelson carry political baggage into this year’s race.
Until becoming a two-term Florida governor, Scott was the head of health-care conglomerate Columbia/HCA, which between 2000-2002 pleaded guilty to 14 felonies and paid more than $600 million in government fines after admitting to overcharging Medicare and other health programs.
Scott is also remembered for killing a high-speed rail system linking Tampa and Orlando. Scott said that poor passenger participation in other high-speed systems prompted his lack of support.
He also rejected expanding Medicaid in Florida, which made up part of the Affordable Care Act. The rejection denied affordable health care to an estimated 800,000 low-income Floridians. Scott warned that accepting the federal money to expand the program would leave Florida on the hook for billions of dollars if the federal help was withdrawn.
On the environmental front he supported spending more for recovering the Everglades and springs, but cut funding for the state’s water districts.
Earning the ire of many Florida gun owners, Nelson supports restrictions on the purchase and possession of guns.
Nelson also opposed repealing the Affordable Care Act and called for Florida to expand its Medicaid program and accept federal government financial help to pay for it.
Nelson voted against extending the Bush tax cuts and instead wanted to limit them to only those earning less than $250,000.
He also voted to raise flood insurance rates for some property owners through the National Flood Insurance Program.
Many of Nelson’s votes have left conservatives who came to the campaign event Tuesday angry.
Katherine Frankenfield, 79, and a retired nurse from Dunnellon, said she came to show her support for Scott and his efforts to oust Nelson, who she said is out of touch with most Floridians.
“He has done a good job for the state. He’s left no problem untouched,” she said of Scott before his arrival. “I wanted to hear what he had to say; what’s going to be the new deal.”
Frankenfield said it would take a political heavyweight to knock Nelson out of his job.
“It will take a Rick Scott to get a do-nothing Bill Nelson out,” she said. “He doesn’t listen. He does nothing. It’s time for him to retire.”
Contact Chronicle Fred Hiers at firstname.lastname@example.org and 352-397-5914. Chronicle intern Julia Grady-Weil contributed to this report.