TALLAHASSEE — Less than a month after getting in the Senate race, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has already spent more than $5 million on television ads, a huge amount this early in his bid to knock off three-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson.
With the U.S. Chamber of Commerce already spending $800,000 in pro-Scott ads, the onslaught of cash has left Democrats in Florida and beyond scrambling to keep their message from getting buried while Scott continues to gobble up TV time.
His campaign is already on its third different ad, including a Spanish-language one, which has given him a head start in the important task of setting the race’s narrative. His first ads focused on accomplishments and federal term-limits, his one big policy position so far. The latest ad, titled “results,” features Scott talking about inaction in Washington.
“If Washington was a business, it would be bankrupt,” Scott, a former hospital chain executive, says in the new TV spot.
Unwilling to spend on television this early in the election cycle, national Democratic groups, which are expected to play a big role in Nelson’s reelection campaign, have started pointing out that in Scott’s two gubernatorial races he tapped into his personal wealth to outspend opponents, but only eked out small victories and never got more than 50 percent of the vote.
Democrats are also hoping for a “blue wave” given President Donald Trump’s low approval ratings going into the midterm elections. Across the country, including in Florida, there have been several special elections where Democrats picked up wins in seats Trump won in 2016.
“2018 is already shaping up to be a different kind of year: Democrats have won elections in the St. Petersburg mayoral race, a closely contested state Senate race in South Florida and an overwhelmingly Republican House district in Sarasota,” read a memo from Mindy Myers, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It was released April 9, the same day Scott announced he was entering the Senate race.
“Scott has also never run weighed down by an unpopular GOP president and Congress. This dynamic is sparking a backlash against GOP candidates and deprives him of his traditional campaign message,” noted the DSCC memo.
Though Scott has not yet had to disclose campaign finance reports publicly, it’s increasingly likely that he used personal funds to boost his early campaign. Scott announced earlier this week that he had raised $3.2 million in contributions since getting in the race, a huge number in the short period since Scott had been actively fundraising. But it’s not enough to float $5 million in TV ads, while funding other normal campaign activities.
In 2010, during his first campaign for governor, Scott spent more than $70 million of his own money, and during his 2014 reelection campaign shelled out $15 million at the very end of the race to narrowly defeat Democratic challenger Charlie Crist.
Scott’s personal wealth is being used as one of the Democrat’s main talking points early in the Senate campaign, which is expected to be the most expensive in Florida history. They have hit Scott for having a blind trust, which hides some of his personal investments, and using an extension to not yet file his federal disclosure forms, which are more detailed than those at the state level.
The use of extensions is common, and, in the past, has been used by a number of Democrats, including former Rep. Gwen Graham, who is now one of the party’s top candidates for governor.
Nevertheless, American Bridge, a Washington-based super PAC, attacked Scott the day he filed the extension.
“Instead of being transparent and disclosing his financial interests, Rick Scott is continuing to hide what are likely massive conflicts of interest,” said American Bridge spokesperson Joshua Karp in a statement.