Politics

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a close Trump ally, joins race to succeed Mitch McConnell as GOP leader

WASHINGTON — (AP) — Florida Sen. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he will run for Senate Republican leader when Mitch McConnell steps down from the post, becoming the third Republican in the race.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the current No. 2 Republican in the Senate, and Texas Sen. John Cornyn have already announced they are running. McConnell said in February that he would step down from the post after November's election but stay in the Senate.

Scott is a close ally of former President Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, and is likely to win votes from some of Trump's closest allies in the Senate. Scott was one of the first GOP lawmakers to attend Trump's hush money trial in New York, accompanying the former president into the courtroom earlier this month and defending him on television afterward.

Announcing his run on Fox News, Scott called himself a “change agent” and said he’d spoken with Trump earlier in the day.

“He said he’s excited I’m getting into the race,” Scott said.

The Florida senator’s close ties to the former president could be an advantage, especially if Trump defeats Joe Biden in the presidential election. But Thune and Cornyn have endorsed Trump as well, after criticizing him in the past over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by his supporters.

Scott also ran for Republican leader in 2022, challenging McConnell at Trump’s urging. He won 10 votes out of the 49 in the GOP conference.

“I think there’s a better way to run the Senate,” Scott said after McConnell announced he would step down from leadership. “So we’ll see what happens.”

Scott and McConnell have been at odds since Scott led Republicans’ Senate campaign arm in the 2022 elections and the two had differing approaches. The party came up short that year, failing to win back the majority after Democrats took control in 2021. Scott was openly critical of McConnell and won over a few of his colleagues who also said it was time for new leadership.

Republican senators haven’t chosen a new leader since 2007, when McConnell was elected — before most current GOP senators took office. Campaigning is already taking place in private and in one-on-one meetings, as the contenders work to persuade their GOP colleagues to back them on a secret ballot. The election will take place in a closed-door conference meeting at some point after the November elections.

Scott, a former Florida governor, is also up for reelection this year, facing a challenge from former Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Mucarsel-Powell said after Scott’s announcement that “the stakes just got so much higher” in the Senate race.

“There’s no line Rick Scott won’t cross to further his own extreme agenda,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Stephanie Matat contributed from West Palm Beach, Florida.

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