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Semafor LogoJoseph Zeballos-Roig
Joseph Zeballos-Roig
politics

Rick Scott says he will challenge Mitch McConnell for Senate Minority Leader

Joseph is a Domestic Politics and Policy Reporter for Semafor, joining us from Business Insider. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.

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A photo of Florida Senator Rick Scott
REUTERS/Marco Bello

Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott announced on Wednesday that he plans to challenge Mitch McConnell for Republican Senate leader, launching a longshot bid after guiding the party’s failed effort to retake the chamber.

Scott, who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee that oversaw the upper chamber’s midterm campaigns, made his pitch in a three-page Dear Colleague letter circulated among Senate Republicans.

“We must start saying what we are for, not just what we are against,” Scott said. “Republican voters expect and deserve to know our plan to promote and advance conservative values.

McConnell, emerging to face reporters after a three-hour long Republican caucus lunch, confidently proclaimed “I have the votes.”

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“I don’t own this job,” McConnell said. “Anybody in the conference is certainly entitled to challenge. I welcome the competition.”

The two had clashed throughout the election cycle. In March, McConnell publicly disavowed a an “11-Point Plan to Rescue America” Scott released that called for sunsetting programs like Social Security and Medicare every five years and imposing a minimum income tax on Americans, which Democrats used in attack ads. He also warned over the summer that “candidate quality” might cost the party the majority, which some saw as an indictment of Senate candidates backed by Donald Trump.

McConnell reiterated the comment on Tuesday, saying losing Republican candidates in Arizona and New Hampshire were “crushed by independent voters” due to a perception the party was focused on “negativity and attacks and chaos.”

“I think the lessons are pretty clear,” McConnell said. “Senate races are different. Candidate quality, as you recall I said in August, is important. In most of our states we met that test and in a few of them we did not.”

Trump has spent months calling for Republicans to oust McConnell, who declared Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the January 6th attacks last year while declining to convict him in his impeachment trial, and recently suggested that Scott was a “likely candidate” for the job. Scott was reportedly planning to announce his bid after Tuesday’s midterm results, in which he predicted the party would pick up at least 52 Senate seats, but had temporary second thoughts after the GOP’s underwhelming showing.

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McConnell’s allies have already been engaged in a flame war on Twitter with Scott’s NRSC in recent days over campaign strategy. On Tuesday, Steven Law, CEO of the McConnell-backed Senate Leadership Fund criticized the NRSC for using fundraising appeals in the Georgia Senate runoff to fill their own coffers rather than the candidate’s.

“Good committees raise enough so that they don't have to steal from their candidates,” he tweeted.

undefined headshotJoseph's view

Even before the midterm results were in, Scott wasn’t likely to unseat McConnell from his post. His chances of pulling off a coup now after the GOP’s big bust are next to nil. But Scott is widely thought to have presidential ambitions, and taking a symbolic stab at McConnell could burnish his reputation with the MAGA base. At the very least, Trump, who is at a sensitive moment as he launches his campaign amidst a sea of criticism, will likely take notice—in which case it might not be the worst way for Scott to launch a VP campaign.

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