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Rick Scott praises Donald Trump, but stops just short of endorsement


Stopping short of an endorsement, Rick Scott praised Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump for “capturing the frustration of many Americans” in a column Florida’s governor wrote Wednesday for USA Today.

In the piece headlined “Donald Trump has America’s pulse,” Scott said he didn’t plan to endorse a candidate before Florida’s March presidential primary. But Scott said he knows Trump personally and as a “man who speaks and tweets his mind freely.”

“But, I don’t think his ability to give the most interesting interviews or speeches is the only thing that has him leading in the polls,” the governor added.

“I think he is capturing the frustration of many Americans after seven years of President Obama’s very intentional government takeover of the American economy.”

Scott’s decision to express his opinion in a national newspaper obviously gives it broader reach — likely helping Trump, but also lifting the governor’s profile.

Scott is widely viewed as interested in running for U.S. Senate in two years when his second term as governor expires, in what could prove to be a titanic clash against three-term Democrat Bill Nelson.

The op-ed piece ran on the one-year anniversary of Scott being sworn-in for that second-term, when he joined former Gov. Jeb Bush as the state’s only Republicans re-elected chief executive.

While Florida’s winner-take-all Republican primary isn’t until March 15, the nod from Scott could prove significant, said Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist and fund-raiser, who recently left the Bush presidential campaign to support Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s White House bid.

“They have a personal bond that is very genuine,” Ballard said about Scott and Trump. “In a Republican primary, Rick Scott’s endorsement, I think, is the most important endorsement any candidate could get.”

While Scott draws only middling approval ratings from Florida voters in most polls, among conservative Republicans the governor always fares better. Ballard, who also lobbies for Trump’s hotel, casino and commercial real estate interests in Florida, acknowledged Scott stopped short of a full embrace of the candidate.

“But what he said in the piece is very consistent with what he has said privately about Mr. Trump,” Ballard added.

One of Ballard’s colleagues in his firm, Susie Wiles, is a co-chair of Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida and also managed Scott’s 2010 run for governor.

In the USA Today piece, Scott drew parallels between his own political rise and that of Trump, recalling that both men drew derision from the party establishment when they launched their campaigns.

Scott was the outsider in his 2010 Republican primary fight for governor against Attorney General Bill McCollum.

But Scott outspent McCollum to win – a theme consistent with each of the governor’s subsequent campaigns. He also capitalized on voter anxiety then in a recession-wracked state with sky-high unemployment.

The governor’s advice for those seeking the Republican presidential nomination also was vintage Scott.

“It is my hope that every Republican presidential candidate will become laser-focused on job creation because I want our next president to be a Republican, and I want them to eliminate the regulations and taxes that are poisoning our country’s future,” Scott wrote.

“The pollsters and pundits will keep trying to read voters’ minds. In the meantime, I am glad Republicans are frustrated. I am glad we are demanding a major change, because until we get serious about that, we will continue to get more of the same,” he added.

Trump, a part-time Palm Beach resident, is among five Republican presidential contenders who spend at least some of the year in Florida. While Bush and Rubio may have the most notable political pedigrees in the state, Trump continues to lead in most Florida polls and those nationwide.

It was notable that Scott’s op-ed appeared on the anniversary of his second inauguration.

Bush, whose own presidential hopes have dimmed after an eye-catching kick-off in December 2014, didn’t attend either of Scott’s inaugurals.

But at last year’s event were former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who dropped his second bid for the White House last year and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, still in the race and who steered $19 million from the Republican Governors Association he chaired to Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Politics writer George Bennett contributed to this report.


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