TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Monday he has no plans to endorse a Republican presidential candidate during the primary contests, as he acclimates to an unfamiliar role of fundraiser and party leader in the critical swing state.
Scott, who was elected two years ago, spoke during a telephone interview with Reuters while touring Jacksonville area schools, reiterating that his job right now is getting Floridians back to work.
“What I’ll do is support the eventual nominee,” Scott said. “I think the issue is going to be no different than my race in 2010. It’s going to be about jobs.”
It is a new role for the former healthcare executive, who is coming off a virtually self-funded gubernatorial campaign in which he spent $73 million of his family’s money.
Scott was noticeably absent when the Republican presidential candidates campaigned in Florida ahead of its primary in late January, which was won handily by Mitt Romney, who is now the party’s presumptive nominee.
Always quick to return to his campaign mantra of jobs, Scott said U.S. Census data released last week point to renewed growth in some Florida metropolitan areas hit hard by the free fall in the housing market that began in 2007. The sector plays a disproportionately critical role in the state’s economy.
Coupled with improving home sales and increased tourism, it bodes well for Florida’s economic rebound, he said.
“You are seeing it all over the state,” Scott said. “You go into hotels and you meet people who are moving here from all over the country.”
He conceded that Florida’s improving economy could help President Barack Obama’s re-election chances in a state that many pundits say is critical for Republicans to win in the November election.
Scott, however, said voters will likely choose the candidate who has the best plan on getting the country back to work. “That’s how people are going to vote this fall,” Scott said. “It’s going to be who has the best jobs plan.”
He also called for patience as investigations continued into the deaths of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot near Orlando, and Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major who died during an apparent hazing ritual on a bus trip to Orlando.
Martin’s death in February at the hands of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman, who said he acted in self-defense, has ignited a firestorm that has led to nationwide protests and calls for the shooter to be arrested.
Civil rights groups, politicians and others say the teen was a victim of racial profiling as well as Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows wide latitude to use deadly force if a person fears serious bodily harm.
“We are going to have due process for the Martin family and for George Zimmerman,” Scott said. “We’re going to make sure we treat people with respect and go through the process. That’s what we’re doing.”
Scott defended Florida’s gun laws, saying the process of owning a gun was “logical” while noting that he had appointed a task force to look at citizen safety and self-defense laws in the wake of the Martin shooting.
More than 900,000 residents and visitors have concealed weapons in Florida, which has a population of about 19 million.
Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by David Adams and Paul Simao