As Florida Republicans prepare to coalesce around Gov. Rick Scott in his efforts to unseat incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is showing hesitancy in leading the GOP’s efforts.
“I don’t campaign against Bill Nelson,” Rubio told reporters Tuesday at a sit-down meeting in his Tallahassee office. “Bill Nelson and I have a very good working relationship.”
Rubio’s tone comes as a surprise as both sides of the aisle ramp up their efforts to rally supporters before Nelson and his likely contender, Scott, face off in the 2018 midterm elections for one of Florida’s U.S. Senate seats.
The high-profile Florida Republican defended himself, saying that he would “support the GOP nominee” whoever wins the primary—including Scott if he wins—and said the Florida governor would “do a good job in the Senate.”
Rubio also said that he is partial more to Nelson because he works with him at the federal level and does not work with Scott as often.
“I don’t work as close with him [Scott] because he’s a state official, and I’m a federal official,” Rubio said.
But Rubio and Scott’s political relationship is not as rosy as it seems.
Scott was one of the last Republicans to endorse Rubio when he announced his last-minute re-election bid to the Senate, and a top political consulting group for Scott attacked Rubio during the 2016 Senate primary.
Nelson, on the other hand, has been quick to embrace Rubio to stress his “bipartisan” record with voters. In September 2017, the Florida Democrat name-dropped Rubio several times in a speech shortly after Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida.
In recent months, Rubio’s cordial relationship with Nelson has become more high-profile after the two Florida senators co-sponsored the “Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act” following the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17.
The act calls for using federal Justice Department grants to give states incentives to create programs that would allow law enforcement and family members to file restraining orders against people who pose “a risk to themselves or others.”
Nelson said that he hopes he can continue to work with Rubio on bipartisan legislation even as the 2018 midterms loom ahead.
“I hope we can continue to work together on common sense solutions, such as requiring universal background checks and getting assault rifles off our streets,” Nelson said in the joint statement.