Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., launched a bid for Senate leader on Tuesday, challenging current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the top spot in the Republican conference.
“I’m writing to you today because I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past,” Scott wrote in a letter to colleagues. “If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me.”
Scott’s challenge comes a week after the midterm elections yielded disappointing results for Republicans who had anticipated a wave election that would produce powerful GOP majorities in the House and Senate. On Monday, however, Democrats cemented another two years as the majority in the upper chamber after the Nevada Senate race was called for incumbent Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto. The House was called for Republicans moments before former President Donald Trump took the podium to announce his third consecutive run for the White House on Tuesday.
Scott’s move to rival McConnell also comes after the incumbent leader tasked with reclaiming the Senate undermined GOP chances for a Republican majority. In September, as the fall midterms heated up, McConnell complained about “candidate quality” when discussing Republican nominees.
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” McConnell said on Fox News. “Senate races are just different. They’re statewide. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
“Ultimately, though, when you complain and lament that we have ‘bad candidates,’ what you are really saying is that you have contempt for the voters who chose them,” Scott wrote. “Now we are at the heart of the matter. Much of Washington’s chattering class disrespects and secretly (or not so secretly) loathes Republican voters.”
McConnell botched the fall midterms by spending to protect incumbent allies from Republican challengers over candidates in competitive races that could have picked up key seats held by Democrats. McConnell’s super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, spent more than $6 million to defeat Alaska Republican Kelly Tshibaka against GOP incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. On the other hand, Republicans in Arizona and New Hampshire, who were both battling well-funded Democrat incumbents within the polls’ margins of error, were abandoned by the Senate minority leader.
McConnell is now left to defend his perch in leadership after Republican losses in New Hampshire, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Nevada have kept the GOP from claiming the majority. Failure to capture the upper chamber has sparked a backlash among members who have been calling for a delay in leadership elections scheduled for this week.
Throughout the midterms, Scott, this cycle’s chair of the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), spent on candidates left hung out to dry by McConnell. Under Scott, the NRSC spent nearly $10 million for Republican venture capitalist Blake Masters in Arizona, more than it spent on any other candidate this cycle, and put nearly $3 million behind Republican Gen. Don Bolduc in New Hampshire. Both had pledged not to support McConnell for a new term as leader.
Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis joined Florida’s Marco Rubio on Friday to call on Senate Republicans to delay electing new leadership. Other members of the upper chamber have signaled their willingness to back an alternative to McConnell, including Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Utah’s Mike Lee, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, and Senators-elect J.D. Vance of Ohio and Eric Schmitt of Missouri.
On Tuesday night, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun endorsed Scott for leader.
“I ran for Senate because we need OUTSIDERS to take on the D.C. swamp and get RESULTS,” Braun wrote in a statement. “Hoosier conservative Republicans are sick and tired of the status quo. I’m proud to support my friend and fellow conservative outsider Rick Scott for our Leader.”
McConnell remained confident on Tuesday afternoon, however, that he “has the votes” to retain his role as GOP Senate leader.
“I will be elected. The only issue is whether we do it sooner or later,” McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill.