Is former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren planning to launch a bid against, arguably, one of the biggest boogeymen in the state to Florida Democrats?
No sooner than I posted a photo of Warren with me at the Rays home opener last Thursday did I start receiving messages from Democratic consultant friends asking variations of the same question.
“You know he’s running against Scott?” they each asked rhetorically, referring to U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who is up for re-election next year.
Warren hasn’t announced anything officially, and this is mere speculation based on a few text messages, but it certainly begs the questions: Why the hell not?
Warren was twice elected State Attorney in a county that’s very swingy. His 2020 re-election might not be that much to boast about — it was a good year for Hillsborough Democrats, with gains on the County Commission and some over-performances, if not wins, in red-leaning legislative districts. But 2016, when he was first elected, really shows what Warren could bring to the table.
Then, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio edged his Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, and Republicans in Hillsborough-based races either won or put up competitive fights. That year marked the beginning of what looked like a permanent blue-shift in Hillsborough, and Warren arguably helped lead the charge. He unseated incumbent Mark Ober in what the Tampa Bay Times described at the time as a “stunning election night upset.”
Warren’s name was little known outside of political and legal circles before 2022 when Gov. Ron DeSantis unceremoniously (or ceremoniously, depending on who you ask) yanked him from office citing Warren’s pledges not to prosecute certain crimes related to non-violent offenses and abortion.
That changed very quickly as outrage among Democrats bubbled over and Warren took extraordinary legal steps (which he is still taking) to right what he perceived as a wrong based in partisan over-stepping. Now, Warren is not only a well known name in Florida outside of Hillsborough County, he’s fairly well known nationally — his story picked up in plenty national media outlets.
Warren hasn’t always been quite so controversial.
Early in his tenure, he helped exonerate a wrongfully convicted man who served nearly 40 years in prison through the establishment of an overall popular conviction review unit, for example.
But in recent years that’s changed, and it could play well on a statewide stage if Warren can figure out how to harness the power of his progressive bonafides, while still managing to court moderate independents and Republicans.
To be sure, it would be a hard climb, but what has Warren got to lose in making the effort.
It appears no one else is willing to take a stab at it.
That’s at least the take from The Daily Beast, which reported just days ago that “leading state Democrats have been crickets about whether or not they’re interested in going against him.”
For his part, Scott seems to be banking they won’t. In response to the Daily Beast article, Scott tweeted a cartoon graveyard, with gravestones marking the names of past opponents whom have all fell to his largely self-funded, money-laden campaigns: Alex Sink in 2010, who Scott defeated for the Governor’s mansion; Charlie Crist in 2014, who came up short against Scott’s re-election machine; and Bill Nelson in 2018, who Scott unseated from the U.S. Senate.
A fourth gravestone for 2024 shows a “your name here” place marker for whomever might dare challenge Scott, three times undefeated, again.
"Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is running again. But leading state Democrats have been crickets about whether or not they’re interested in going against him." https://t.co/tPOokVI0co pic.twitter.com/rhIlxn6h35
— Rick Scott (@ScottforFlorida) March 29, 2023
Short of someone like Stephanie Murphy or someone similarly middle of the road, maybe they guy for Dems just could be the one DeSantis hates the most?
I often refer to Scott as the Eli Manning of Florida politics — he’s got the skill but not the respect.
But I’m not sure an aggrieved former prosecutor should be so quickly discounted.
Before his election as Governor in 2010, Scott was muddied up in a massive Medicare fraud scandal. At the same time, Warren was a federal, white-collar crimes prosecutor — the kind of prosecutor who goes after, you guessed it, Medicare fraud. Oh the fun they would have with that one!
And is Scott really even all that popular with anyone other than the ultra-far right these days? He’s suffered a lot of blame for the GOP’s disappointing Midterm performance, Florida notwithstanding. He unsuccessfully challenged Mitch McConnell for Senate Minority Leader.
He launched an ill-advised (and later walked back) pitch to sunset Medicare and Social Security, both wildly unpopular, and it blew up in his face.
Scott’s tried and true blue Navy ball cap has given him some level of likability in a state that remembers his genuinely great response to a barrage of hurricanes during his tenure. But those days are pretty far behind and, love him or hate him, DeSantis’ track record in that regard has probably sent Scott’s into somewhere approaching oblivion.
By contrast, Warren comes across the charismatic, younger family man — the type of guy who coaches his daughter’s softball team and looks perfectly at ease at a baseball game.
I’m not saying he’s the best shot. But I’m not saying he’s not either.