ORLANDO — Six presidential candidates, some declared and some expected, began the process Tuesday of courting Gov. Rick Scott, hoping to win favor with the chief executive of the nation’s largest swing state before the 2016 election.
“Anything I can do to suck up to him and his donors I’ll do,” joked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to a gathering of business leaders at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.
He was among the candidates addressing the crowd at an economic summit sponsored by Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political committee, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The stage’s backdrop included Scott’s name in huge letters, and the speakers — each a former or sitting governor — addressed the media in front of a banner covered in Scott’s name.
“In any state the governor is the biggest political figure,” said former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla. “Getting the endorsement of the governor in a state like Florida is very important.”
That endorsement can allow a presidential candidate to tap into a governor’s existing resources, which include grass roots campaign infrastructure and a campaign finance network.
In Scott’s case, it’s a lucrative one. Scott shattered previous fundraising records during his reelection campaign and has continued the effort, raising nearly $1 million through his political committee since the beginning of April.
“Governor Scott raised more than any gubernatorial candidate in the state of Florida history. He has a network of fundraising and political operatives that are the top in the country,” said Nick Larossi, a lobbyist who has raised money for Scott’s political committee.
“Even just introducing them to his network … is a key component,” he added.
Speakers throughout the day clearly understood the message, sometimes using the dynamic as a joke in their roughly 30-minute speeches, which was followed by a question–and-answer session with attendees.
“If we would just apply the common sense in D.C. that you have seen in Florida these last four plus years, we would certainly be in a much, much better place,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who joked before the comment that he was there, in part, to “pander” to Scott.
Other speakers included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Current Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Chris Christie of New Jersey also addressed the crowd. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was scheduled to attend, but had to remain in Washington.
The meeting comes on the second day of the Legislature’ 20-day special legislative session to hammer out a state budget after a health care funding fight derailed the regular session. Scott said his time was better spent at the Orlando economic summit than at the state Capitol.
“It helps promote our state. It helps promote more job growth in our state,” Scott said.
Scott signed legislation early in the regular legislative session moving the state’s presidential primary to March 15, a move that allowed the Republican Party of Florida to make the state’s primary a “winner take all” contest.
The move creates a coveted block of electoral votes, but also means 20 states will hold GOP nominating contests ahead of Florida. Scott says Florida maintains its importance in the process of picking the Republican presidential candidate, which is one of his top goals.
“It is 29 electoral votes and it’s important to compete in the primary,” Scott said.
( 352) 233-0777