Gov. Rick Scott confirmed Monday that he's running for U.S. Senate, making the announcement in Orlando before heading out on a campaign kickoff tour of the state. He'll challenge incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in what will likely be one of the most expensive and hotly contested races in 2018.
"You're the first to know I'm going to run for the U.S. Senate representing the great state of Florida," Scott said in brief statement on Facebook ahead of the kickoff event. "We're going to do the exact same thing we've done in Florida, we're going to turn around the national economy. We're going to make sure that Washington works for us."
The announcement has been signaled by Scott for months, and in recent weeks he cut ties to Let's Get to Work, his main political committee he used to push him to victory in consecutive governor's races, as well as New Republican, a federal-level pro-Trump political committee he chaired. New Republican is expected to support Scott's Senate run, but candidates for federal races aren't allowed to coordinate with super PACs.
Scott made his announcement at ODC Construction, a firm that has grown to 400 employees and that Scott has touted before as emblematic of his job-growth policies.
Scott's entrance in the race was immediately bashed by several Democrats and progressive groups.
"Just like the rest of the Tallahassee establishment, Rick Scott is only looking out for himself — that's why he gave tax breaks to wealthy and powerful millionaires like himself while slashing education spending and refusing federal help for hundreds of thousands of Floridians without health insurance," said Winter Park businessman Chris King, a Democratic candidate to replace Scott as governor.
Scott, 65, is a former hospital executive who swept to office in 2010 with the help of $60.4 million of his own money, upsetting the GOP establishment along the way. His fundraising prowess, along with his personal wealth — if he needs to use it — is expected to give Nelson a fierce challenge for reelection.
But Nelson, 75, seemed unperturbed by Scott's candidacy.
"I've always run every race like there's no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent," Nelson said in a released statement. "While it's clear that Rick Scott will say or do anything to get elected, I've always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself."
Attack ads began hitting the internet as soon as Scott made his announcement, a preview of the war on the airwaves in the months to come in the multimillion-dollar campaign.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unleashed a pair of Facebook ads slamming Scott and highlighting the $1.7-billion fine paid by HCA, the hospital company he led, for Medicare fraud in the 1990s.
Republicans immediately responded with their website, nomorenelson.com, paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, casting Nelson as a do-nothing career politician. The National Republican Senate Committee followed with an ad bashing all Democrats, including Nelson, for voting against the tax cut bill last year.
Scott echoed some of those criticisms, although he didn't mention Nelson by name.
"We need to shake up Washington," he told supporters at the campaign kickoff event. "Let's stop sending talkers to Washington; let's send some doers to Washington."
Rohrer writes for the Orlando Sentinel.
9:50 a.m.: This article was updated with response from Republicans.