Scott, Bondi could be poised to play key roles in Washington
Both had key roles in helping President-elect Donald Trump win Florida
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – 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.
"I was the outsider," Scott wrote. "The Republican Party didn't support me, and they spent a lot of money against me, and I won anyways because Floridians wanted a change. The same was true for Americans this year."
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.
"It turns out that the elites in Washington have no idea what is going on in this country," Scott said. "They are completely clueless. They are in complete shock right now. I love it."
Scott wrote that Trump, who is a part-time Florida resident at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, has "harnessed the passion of Americans for turning Washington upside down and starting over!"
"He will have a lot of work to do. But, that's exactly what Americans are demanding," Scott said.
Although speculation has started that Scott could join the Trump administration, Scott said Wednesday afternoon that he plans to remain in his job as Florida's governor, with a little more than two years left in his final term.
Melissa Stone, one of Scott's closed confidants, said she believes Scott could win a third term as governor if not for term limits.
"I think you are seeing voters who have one issue," Stone said. "They want the economy to grow. They want jobs to be added. That's been Gov. Scott's singular mission, and also a focus for Donald Trump."
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.
"Rick Scott has been a promoter of Donald Trump since the beginning," he said. "He stepped out and led the super PAC at a time when a lot of people thought Trump didn't have a chance.
“He deserves great credit. It does validate a lot of what he has said.”
As chairman of an independent super PAC promoting Trump, Scott had to keep his distance from Trump under federal election law, Ballard said.
"Trust me, we would commiserate on things, but he couldn't get involved because he had such a high level of concern about not violating the super PAC statutes," 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.
"Her relationship with Donald Trump, which I have seen up close and personal, is incredible," Ballard said. "He wanted her at every rally. He wanted her on the plane. He wanted her to be his lucky charm. He has great affection for her."
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.
"When there were bad days, she always helped even if it was quiet help," Ballard said.
Ballard said he expects Trump to consider Bondi, a former state prosecutor from Tampa, for a role in his administration.
"My guess is if she wants to play a role in the administration, she can play a significant role, and I hope she does," he said.
Scott was also asked if Bondi has a place in a Trump Administration.
"If I was President-elect, it is somebody I would look at," Scott said.
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, barring some catastrophe, 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.
"I think they're fans of one another," Ballard said. "I think (Rubio) will be a leader in the Senate. He's going to have the stature of a former presidential candidate. I think he is going to be important to the Trump administration on foreign policy issues and Latin America."
The fact that Rubio's chances for a 2020 presidential bid have diminished may also be a positive, Ballard said.
"He is going to be able to be a senator and make a decision on what he wants to do," Ballard said. "I think he will be a great senator when he doesn't have that next office to think about."
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.
Gruters, who was the co-chair of Trump's campaign in Florida, has a relationship with the incoming president that dates back to 2012 when Gruters invited Trump to an event where the real-estate developer was honored by local Republicans after being denied a speaking spot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Ballard 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 was also a key political strategist for Scott, helping him win his first election in 2010.
While saying Trump will be "his own man" and will make mistakes, Ballard said "people are going to love him."
"He's going to be much more Ronald Reagan than people really ever dreamed," Ballard said. "He will be an immensely popular president right away."
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
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