- Associated Press - Thursday, August 20, 2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Whether ordering Planned Parenthood inspections, criticizing the federal Ebola response or suing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Gov. Rick Scott makes headlines in Florida off events of national scope.

Scott’s penchant for grabbing the spotlight when national news breaks could help prepare him for a potential 2018 Senate run as he takes on issues popular with the conservative Republican base.

“It is not the conduct of someone who’s planning to go sit by the pool,” said Mac Stipanovich, a lobbyist and political consultant who has worked for former Gov. Jeb Bush, among others. “If you look at what he’s doing, it’s certainly consistent with positioning himself with a future political race.”

Scott, 62, won’t talk about his political future - that’s a no-no for politicians until they actually make an announcement - but there’s widespread speculation that he’s thinking beyond the governor’s office, which he leaves in January 2019 because of term limits.

Besides his efforts to show leadership in response to national news, he’s also still hauling in huge donations for his political committee and spending it aggressively on political consultants and advertising.

“You didn’t see that sort of thing from Jeb (Bush) when he was leaving office,” said Stipanovich. When Bush’s terms as Florida governor ended in 2007, he stayed out of politics until he announced his run for president this year.

Democratic political consultant Steve Schale said he wouldn’t be surprised if Scott, who focused on federal issues during both of his campaigns, has White House aspirations.

“He’s always felt more comfortable in that conservative federal space,” said Schale, who pointed out that Scott wasn’t nearly as quick to address severe flooding in the Tampa Bay area. “It took him less than a day to order an investigation into Planned Parenthood, but it took him more than a week to declare an emergency in Tampa.”

Although Scott’s actions are consistent with his political beliefs, he’s getting maximum attention for them in areas that play well with conservatives.

After national attention about Planned Parenthood providing fetal tissue for research, the governor ordered an investigation of the group’s 16 clinics in Florida to make sure they were complying with abortion laws. He responded to a shooting at a Chattanooga, Tennessee, military recruiting center by ordering Florida National Guardsmen be armed. In reaction to reports of secret waiting lists at VA hospitals in other states, Scott sued the agency to let state inspectors examine records at Florida facilities. He also repeatedly demanded that the federal government provide testing kits, training and protective suits after Ebola cases were confirmed in Texas.

Brecht Heuchan, the top political adviser to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee, said he hasn’t heard the governor, his staff or political advisers talk about the governor’s future political plans. He said the political committee isn’t so much about promoting Scott as promoting Florida.

“He views this committee as just another tool to promote the things that are important to his overarching goals,” Heuchan said.

Still, Let’s Get to Work has spent $612,000 on political consultants and nearly $1.7 million on ads since the beginning of the year. Donors since the election have included Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik, who’s contributed $200,000, and $50,000 from the Busch family famous as the founders of Budweiser.

Scott had never run for office before spending more than $70 million of his own money to win the 2010 governor’s race. He won re-election last year, coming from behind in the polls after spending $13 million of his own money in the final week of the election.

Although Scott has shown he can raise the resources to win an election, each of his victories came with less than half the votes cast and he has never had a high approval rating. A June 22 Quinnipiac University poll found that 39 percent of respondents approved of the job Scott is doing, and 49 percent disapproved - his worst rating since March 2013.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has yet to decide whether he will seek a third term in 2018. If he does, it would pose a challenge for Scott if the governor seeks the seat. Nelson has easily won each of his Senate elections.

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