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Rick Scott’s pitch to Florida Hispanics: Kitchen table issues with a side of Latin America

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) says Hispanic voters have the same concerns as the general population, with added focus on conditions in Central and South America.

“[Hispanics] generally care about the same thing as everybody else. But they also do care about democracy and freedom in Latin America. So while they care about jobs, they care about education, they care about law enforcement, they also care about that,” Scott told The Hill.

That view is central to Scott’s reelection campaign approach in Florida, a state where a quarter of the population is Hispanic.

“In my campaigns, if I’m gonna run an ad, I generally run an ad in English and in Spanish. If I’m doing events, I’m doing events, like in the Panhandle and I’m also at same time doing events in Miami. Or if I’m in Tampa, I might do an event with the Chamber [of Commerce], then also do it with the Hispanic Chamber,” he said.

“So I’ve always reached out to everybody, because I represent everybody.”

That approach stands in contrast to mainstream thinking in national Hispanic-focused campaigns, where apples-to-apples bilingual outreach is slowly being replaced by tailor-made messages for individual cultural subsets.

Scott’s more traditional approach in part responds to the large number of different Hispanic groups in Florida.

“Hispanics in the way it works in Florida — we have Cubans, Venezuelans, Colombians, Puerto Ricans, Nicaraguans — they’re all different communities but it’s a good melting pot, but I reach out to each one of them and I do things with every group. I just never — I never stopped talking to them,” said Scott.

His confident approach — he has won three straight statewide elections — also relies on his constituent services, which in 2022 were awarded the Congressional Management Foundation’s Democracy Award.

“I’m running on my record and so, you know, the I’m very — I’m very comfortable that I’m going to continue to do my job and you know, my constituent services team won for the best constituent service team in the country,” said Scott.

But Scott’s statewide wins have not been by large margins: In 2010 he won the governorship by about 1.2 percentage points, he was reelected in 2014 by a single percentage point margin and he won his Senate seat in 2018 against then-incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by less than two-tenths of a percentage point — about a 10,000 vote difference out of more than 8 million votes cast.

And Scott, along with Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), is the closest thing Republicans have to a vulnerable incumbent in 2024. Both senators’ races are ranked as “likely Republican” by the Cook Political report, as opposed to the “solid Republican” rankings of the other nine GOP-held seats up for renewal.

Scott is also facing a GOP primary opponent, Keith Gross, who pledged to spend copiously to unseat the incumbent, though as of September Gross had spent just under a million dollars compared to Scott’s $12 million already spent in the 2024 cycle.

Throughout his political career, Scott has successfully fended off attacks on the source of his fortune, a 2003 settlement after a complex fraud case involving the company he ran, Columbia/HCA, once the country’s largest health care company.

Those attacks have continued in the GOP primary, and from challengers across the aisle, including Democratic front-runner former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (Fla.), who called the events leading to the settlement “the largest Medicare fraud ever committed in the history of this country.”

Mucarsel-Powell, who was born in Ecuador, is playing full-court press on Hispanic media in Florida, doing nearly daily Spanish-language interviews on influential radio stations in an attempt to outflank Scott through cultural competence and Spanish-language fluency.

“The problem she has it’s not the language she speaks, it’s her positions,” said Scott.

Attack lines in the general election — likely to be between Scott and Mucarsel-Powell — are forming along predictable fronts.

“She runs around with people that are anti-police; I don’t know Hispanics that are anti-police. She basically is, you know, she runs around with people that are anti-Israel. In my experience with Hispanics, they’re not anti-Israel. You know, she basically is a socialist. My experience with Hispanics is they’re not socialists,” said Scott.

Mucarsel-Powell, meanwhile, is attacking Scott as a political extremist for his support of former President Trump, whom she equates to authoritarian strongmen in Latin America.

“It’s nice that Rick Scott is suddenly pretending to care about Latino families in Florida. But hardworking Floridians already know Rick Scott is a fraud who has advocated to raise taxes on the middle class, sided with dangerous insurrectionists, and written the plan to sunset Social Security and Medicare. Rick Scott is a threat to opportunities in this country and democracy at home and abroad,” said Lauren Chou, a spokeswoman for Mucarsel-Powell’s campaign.

Both candidates converge, however, in the importance that Florida Hispanics put in their representatives understanding Western Hemisphere politics.

“With Cubans, I mean, they care about the freedom and democracy in Cuba, generally, or Venezuelans, they care about what [President Nicolás] Maduro is doing or the Nicaraguans, they care about what [President Daniel] Ortega is doing, or if they’re Colombians, they care about what [President Gustavo] Petro is doing or you know, if they’re Argentines, they care about what [President Javier] Milei is doing,” said Scott.

Though U.S. citizens of Latin American and Caribbean origin are a powerful voting group, particularly in South Florida, Puerto Ricans in central Florida have changed the state’s political dynamics.

Puerto Ricans are statutory U.S. citizens if they’re born in the territory, so even recent arrivals from the island are eligible to vote. In 2019 Florida became the state with the largest Puerto Rican diaspora, now more than a million strong.

Like Hispanics with non-U.S. national origins, Scott is pitching kitchen table issues to Puerto Ricans, but he’s also diverging — with caveats — from the Republican Party mainstream on an issue that polls particularly well with Florida’s Puerto Rican community: statehood.

“First off, what they want to do is they want to take care of their families. No. 2, their futures, their kids, so they care about education. And the other thing is they want to have a low crime rate.”

“It’s important to talk about the issues and work with the issues that impact Puerto Ricans and, and acknowledge, I think — I think Puerto Rico eventually will be a state. I think they have to get their fiscal house in order and whether everybody agrees with me here, I’m one vote.”

—Updated Monday at 11:37 a.m.

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