Two of Florida’s top Republican leaders are immediate political beneficiaries of Donald Trump’s surprising but decisive presidential victory Tuesday.
Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi never embraced the favorite-son presidential candidacies of former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen Marco Rubio. That put Scott and Bondi at odds with the majority of Florida’s GOP establishment.
But Trump’s victory, which included winning Florida, has vaulted Scott and Bondi to the front of an inner circle of supporters who may benefit in a host of ways from the coming Trump administration.
Within hours of Trump’s early-morning victory speech in New York City, Scott posted a message online, drawing parallels between his initial gubernatorial campaign in 2010 as a businessman and political novice with Trump’s victory.
Scott led the Rebuilding America Now PAC for Trump, raising and spending $20 million on television advertisements in key battleground states that Trump carried, including Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Scott, who has run two hard-fought but successful gubernatorial campaigns based on an economic prosperity message, noted he had long predicted Trump would carry Florida based on a promise to create more jobs.
Although speculation has started that Scott could join the Trump administration, Scott said Wednesday afternoon he plans to remain in his job as Florida’s governor, with a little more than two years left in his final term.
Many believe Scott is positioning himself for a 2018 challenge of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the only Democrat who holds a statewide office in the nation’s third-largest state.
Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist who was Trump’s finance chairman in Florida, said Scott will benefit from Trump’s unexpected win.
As chairman of an independent super PAC promoting Trump, Scott had to keep his distance from Trump under federal election law, Ballard said.
While Scott had to remain in the background, Bondi, who endorsed Trump before Florida’s March 15 presidential primary, was the state’s most visible Trump supporter, appearing with him at key rallies in the final days of the election.
Ballard said Trump and Bondi, who is in the middle of her second and final term as attorney general, are very close.
Bondi’s support never wavered although she became embroiled in a campaign controversy about a $25,000 donation Trump made to her political committee and whether that influenced her office in 2013 to dismiss allegations that Floridians had been bilked by Trump University. Bondi adamantly denied any impropriety.
Ballard said he expects Trump to consider Bondi, a former state prosecutor from Tampa, for a role in his administration.
While Scott and Bondi are likely to benefit from Trump’s ascension, the new president may present some challenges for Rubio, who was elected Tuesday to a second term as a U.S. senator.
Trump’s presidency makes him the odds-on favorite to be the GOP’s nominee in 2020, boxing out any presidential bid by Rubio, who was a viable 2016 candidate until Trump trounced him in the Florida presidential primary.
But in contrast to the animosity between Trump and Bush, Ballard described Rubio’s relationship with Trump as a “positive rivalry,” although Rubio kept his distance from Trump during the general election.
Incoming state Rep. Joe Gruters, a vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party who was elected Tuesday to a House seat representing portions of Sarasota and Manatee counties, is another early supporter of Trump who will have access to the new president.
Ballard also is likely to benefit from the Trump presidency. Originally a Bush supporter, Ballard has a long history with Trump, representing the Trump organization in Florida as a lobbyist.
Susie Wiles, Ballard’s lobbying firm partner from Jacksonville, played a critical role in Trump’s victory, leading the successful Florida campaign during its final two months.
Wiles also was a key political strategist for Scott, helping him win his first election in 2010.