MIAMI — Gov. Rick Scott made official on Monday what Floridians have suspected for months: He is running for the United States Senate against Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, in a premier race that will return the nation’s largest swing state to its familiar role as the political vortex of a tumultuous election year.
“This is going to be a lot of fun,” Mr. Scott, wearing his usual Navy baseball cap, said in an announcement on Facebook Live from Orlando before embarking on a statewide tour, the type that has become his signature over eight years as governor. “We’re going to make sure that Washington works for us.”
With his formal entry into the campaign, Mr. Scott, 65, made Florida the centerpiece of the midterm elections, featuring one of the most expensive Senate races in the country as well as an open governor’s race and up to a half-dozen competitive House races. The contest between Mr. Nelson and Mr. Scott alone is expected to cost more than $100 million and perhaps as much as $150 million, chiefly to buy television advertising across Florida’s 10 broadcast media markets. Mr. Scott, a multimillionaire former health care executive, invested millions of his own money into his successful campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2014.
The Florida Senate battle will be a microcosm of national Republicans’ fight to keep control of Congress under President Trump, whose policies and demeanor have invigorated Democratic voters. Mr. Nelson is one of 10 Democratic senators seeking re-election in states Mr. Trump won in 2016, and Republicans have repeatedly bested Democrats in most statewide Florida midterm races since 2006 — though one of two Democratic victories that year was Mr. Nelson’s.
In Mr. Scott, Mr. Nelson, 75, faces the toughest challenger of his Senate career, which began in 2001 after stints in the House and as the state’s appointed treasurer in Tallahassee. Despite his many years of political experience, Mr. Nelson remains unknown to some voters; a February poll conducted by the Jacksonville-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy found that 12 percent of respondents did not know the senator’s name, compared with 3 percent who did not recognize Mr. Scott’s.
A Quinnipiac University poll of Florida voters found in February that Mr. Scott’s approval rating was at 49 percent, higher than ever in the survey, with 40 percent of respondents disapproving of his job performance. In a matchup with Mr. Nelson, the senator led by 46-42 percent, essentially a statistical tie given the poll’s error margin.
Mr. Scott was written off by the G.O.P. establishment when he launched his first campaign for governor amid a Tea Party wave. He poured $73 million of his wealth into the race, and his relentless jobs message won him the governor’s mansion by a single percentage point over Alex Sink. He repeated his success in 2014, defeating Charlie Crist, again by a 1-point margin.
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