- The Washington Times - Monday, February 6, 2017

President Trump huddled in Florida on Monday with Gov. Rick Scott, an early supporter in the presidential race who is looking for a return of the favor to help clear the field for his challenge of Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

The Republican governor has been eyeing a Senate run for more than a year and, with Mr. Trump in his corner, is all but guaranteed to enter the race, party insiders say.

Mr. Trump has let it be known that he is one to repay political debts.

“Let me recognize our great governor and a very good friend of mine and somebody who endorsed me. That makes him a better friend of mine,” Mr. Trump said, giving a nod to Mr. Scott during a speech Monday at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, headquarters of U.S. Central Command.

“If they don’t endorse, believe me, if you are ever in this position, it’s never quite the same,” said the president. “You can talk, but it never means the same.”

Mr. Scott joined the president during the visit to the Air Force base. The two later met privately before Mr. Trump returned to Washington aboard Air Force One.

Their political alliance is likely strengthened by Mr. Trump residing part time at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, which he has dubbed the “Winter White House.”

Democrats were already nervous about the Senate race after Mr. Trump captured the state and Sen. Marco Rubio easily won re-election in November.

The next U.S. Senate race in Florida is shaping up as one of the most closely watched in the country with the prospect of a pro-Trump governor facing off against a three-term incumbent who remains the Sunshine State’s only Democrat elected to statewide office.

Mr. Nelson, 72, will be among 25 Senate Democrats defending their seats next year as Mr. Trump looks to expand his party’s majority in the upper chamber.

University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett, an analyst on the state’s politics, said Mr. Trump and Mr. Scott benefited from a “symbiotic relationship.”

“Of all of Trump’s qualities, he certainly seems to be loyal to people who are loyal to him,” said the professor.

“I think [Mr. Trump] would encourage Gov. Scott to run to hopefully help keep the Senate Republican or make it even more Republican and thereby advance his policy goals,” he said. “Gov. Scott would like to tap into the electoral coalition that elected Trump over Hillary Clinton here in Florida. He was able to accomplish something two previous Republicans were unable to do against Barack Obama.”

He expected Mr. Scott would be a tougher opponent for Mr. Nelson, who benefited from facing relatively weak Republican challengers in his past two re-election bouts.

Early support from the president also would discourage primary opponents, such as statewide-elected Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who also is eyeing a Senate run but offered only hesitant support of Mr. Trump in the presidential race.

Mr. Nelson has brushed aside the threat posed by Mr. Scott and the implications of last year’s election.

“Whoever it is, I run my race like there’s no tomorrow,” Mr. Nelson told the Tampa Bay Times.

“This was an unusual election [in November], and you can’t judge what’s going to happen in 2018 on that. First of all, there’s not going to be nearly the turnout and, secondly, it’s going to be in the midyear of a Donald Trump administration. Thirdly, you’re going to have a Democrat at least for the Senate, the good Lord willing, that cuts through a lot of those party circles.”

Expectations for Mr. Scott to enter the Senate race intensified after he announced during the transition that he would not seek a role in the Trump administration. Mr. Scott, who co-founded what became the largest private health care company in the U.S., was considered a top candidate to be secretary of the Health and Human Services Department.

The nomination for HHS secretary ultimately went to Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican and a practicing doctor.

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