A member of Florida's congressional delegation was reportedly outraged that Republican Gov. Rick Scott would actively court Puerto Rican voters in his bid to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this November.
Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor (Fla.) was attending a meeting at the same restaurant Scott was set to hold a campaign event with Puerto Rico's non-voting member of the House of Representatives, Del. Jennifer González-Colón. While attempting to exit the venue, Castor expressed disbelief Scott would have "the gall" to campaign for Puerto Rican votes, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
"I can't believe he has the gall," Castor said, explaining she was outraged he was pursuing "Puerto Rican votes."
The congresswoman in the past has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, especially his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in September. In January, Castor invited evacuees of the storm as her guests to the State of the Union.
Castor's statement sheds light on a new political reality confronting Florida's elected officials.
Hurricane Maria, one of the most intense storms ever recorded, wreaked havoc upon Puerto Rico's electrical grid, rendering a significant portion of the archipelago without power. The storm caused an estimated $90 billion in damage and forced thousands of residents to flee to the United States mainland.
The majority of the Maria evacuees ended up in Florida due to its geographic proximity to Puerto Rico. Nearly 300,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in Florida seeking refuge since the storm, according to figures from Florida’s State Emergency Response Team.
The large influx of Puerto Ricans has altered Florida's political landscape, forcing both Republicans and Democrats to compete for a new voting block that lacks conventional ties to the state's established partisan order.
Scott appears poised to have an upper hand with this new voting block by virtue of his role as Florida's chief executive. In the midst of the storm, Scott directed his administration to set up makeshift counseling centers at Florida airports so incoming refugees could begin the process of applying for aid and enrolling their children in school.
Scott is also likely to be buoyed by the actions his administration has taken in the aftermath of the storm.
In January, the governor announced Florida would invest $1 million in helping Maria refugees find jobs throughout the state.
The governor has also made five high-profile visits to Puerto Rico since the storm and hasn't shied away from using his personal friendship with Trump to lobby the federal government for greater disaster relief.
Scott's active approach to aiding Puerto Rico and its refugees has earned him applause from the commonwealth's political establishment.
González-Colón told the Orlando Sentinel that she was supporting Scott's Senate bid because his willingness to act in the face of catastrophe showed true leadership.
"Every time we are calling FEMA or any federal agency, there’s Governor Scott helping us out," González-Colón said. "And that’s the kind of leader, in the moment of need, that you want. Someone that can answer that call and is there with you no matter what."
González-Colón also pointed to her own limited role in Congress as further proof Puerto Rico needed Scott in the Senate.
"I’m the only one elected for the people of Puerto Rico. I represent 4 million Puerto Ricans on the island but I can’t vote on the floor of the House," González-Colón said. "That’s the reason we need a senator that can vote and represent the people, not just in Florida but the people in the island."
Scott officially announced his bid for the Senate in April.