Rick Scott's ties to Trump may now be an asset in Florida's Senate race

President Trump and Florida Gov. Rick Scott at an Infrastructure Summit at the White House in 2017. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Perhaps the first real sign that Florida Gov. Rick Scott had concluded President Trump may not be a political liability in his Senate race against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson came on June 14.

Scott, who had rarely uttered Trump’s name out on the campaign trail since jumping into what well could prove to be the most expensive race in the country this cycle, offered a benign gesture to the president on Twitter that was notable.

This week, new polling data shows why Scott’s decision to offer Trump public birthday wishes may be viewed favorably in his home state: Among likely voters, Trump’s approval rating has risen to 53 percent, a CBS News poll found. In that same poll, Scott tops Nelson by 46 percent to 41 percent, but an NBC News/Marist survey released a day earlier had Nelson leading 49 percent to 45 percent.

The Nelson campaign continues to try to link Scott with Trump, betting that the president’s policies won’t ultimately serve the Republican candidate well.

“Rick Scott has always put his own political career ahead of what’s best for Floridians, which is evident as Donald Trump attacks Floridians’ healthcare, separates children from their families and abandons Puerto Ricans and Rick Scott refuses to stand up to his good friend, proving he’s only and always looking out for himself,” Nelson for Senate spokesperson Carlie Waibel told Yahoo News in an emailed statement. 

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asks questions about separated children being housed in Florida during a Senate Finance Committee hearing June 26. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Even though Scott will need to chip away at Nelson’s support from Puerto Ricans who live and are eligible to vote in Florida, he has been reluctant to criticize the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, which caused, according to a recent study, more than 4,000 deaths.

At an April campaign event in Orlando, Scott declined to tell Yahoo News whether he agreed with Trump’s assessment that his administration deserved a perfect “10” for its handling of the Puerto Rico relief effort. During a May visit to the island, Scott could not say “what I would do differently,” when asked by reporters. 

Even when Scott diverges from Trump on policy matters — he has voiced his discomfort with government enforced family separations for undocumented immigrants and has pushed back on the idea of ending health coverage for preexisting conditions — he does so without mentioning Trump by name.

“Let me be clear — I do not favor separating families,” Scott said in a recent statement. “Washington is to blame for this by being all talk and no action, and the solution is to secure the border. Anyone seeking to enter our country illegally needs to be sent back, with the exception of those who are truly seeking asylum from an oppressive regime.”

The ties between Scott and Trump do, in fact, run deep. Scott raised $20 million for Trump’s presidential campaign, and a super-PAC Scott ran on behalf of Trump has since morphed into one that supports his own candidacy, Politico reported.

Yet, with the exception of the birthday tweet, you won’t hear Scott say Trump’s name on the campaign trail, where he spends the bulk of his time.

“The thing about Scott is that, though he can be clumsy about it, he makes a real effort at campaigning,”  Steve Schale, Democratic strategist and the former Florida manager for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, told Yahoo News. Schale notes that with Nelson spending much of his time in Washington, and Scott criss-crossing the state in his absence and pouring millions of his personal fortune into the race, Republicans have a good shot at winning in November.

Still, despite Trump’s most recent approval rating poll in the state, Democrats point to recent victories in special elections such as Florida’s 114th House District as proof that a blue wave is building. Some Republicans agree:

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