Rick Scott summit hosts GOP hopefuls at Disney World

By David Bodden and Julie Gargotta, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Tuesday, June 02, 2015, 5:08 PM EDT

A who's-who of Republican presidential hopefuls are going to Disney World.

Governor Rick Scott hosted the Economic Growth Summit on Tuesday.  It is a first-of-its kind gathering for the state of Florida. Governor Scott set the tone for the forum and he laid out the Republican platform for the 20-16 presidential election.

"We all know that the next president has to do what we've done in Florida to turn around the nation's economy," Scott told the invite-only crowd.

Top GOP leaders, many of whom either have already launched campaigns for 2016 or are likely candidates, gathered Tuesday for for the summit, at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center.

The summit's lineup of speakers runs the gamut of heavyweights in the Republican field:

  • Marco Rubio*, Florida U.S. senator
  • Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor
  • Rick Perry, former Texas governor
  • Scott Walker, Wisconsin governor
  • Chris Christie, New Jersey governor
  • Bobby Jindal, Louisiana governor
  • Jeb Bush, former Florida governor

* Rubio was a last-minute no-show to Tuesday's summit. Instead, he sent a video with an apology for his absence.

I am sorry that I could not be with you in Orlando today. The United States senate is taking up the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, an important national security issue, and that is a vote that I could not miss.

While two of the seven speakers — Rubio and Huckabee — have declared their candidacy for the White House, they have all been definitely speaking like candidates.

Many of the speakers also touched on the nation's economy including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has not declared his candidacy, and former governors Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas. And they blamed Washington for being part of the problem.

Latest updates from Rick Scott's Economic Summit

2:15 p.m.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says there are not enough local, county, state and federal law enforcement officers to deport all the immigrants who are in the country illegally.

He says they're not going to deport themselves, and people who want to get over, under or around a fence will always find the will and spirit to do so.

The 2016 Republican presidential prospect says a new approach is needed, and he proposes making it mandatory that employers use the E-Verify system to determine whether potential employees can legally work.

He's at a Republican economic conference in Florida attended by a half dozen GOP White House hopefuls.

12:15 p.m.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is backing off comments that he might not compete in the Florida primary should he run for the Republican presidential nomination.

He says the next president will need to carry Florida in the general election, so primary candidates need to spend time in the state.

Walker says his comments to radio host Laura Ingraham last week that he could play in every state "other than maybe Florida" were simply a recognition that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio will have a competitive advantage in the state. Rubio is a Florida senator and Bush was once governor.

Republican presidential hopefuls are in Orlando addressing an economic conference organized by Gov. Rick Scott. After his remarks, Walker said: "If I didn't think I could compete, I wouldn't be here today."

He says he's made four trips to Florida and plans to spend much time in the state if he enters the nomination race, which he's expected to do this summer.

11 a.m.

What's the most important issue the next president will face?

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry says it's not education, health care, national defense or border security; it's the economy.

The GOP presidential prospect tells Florida Republicans gathered at Disney World that the next president must create a powerful economic environment before anything else.

He says: "Get that right first."

Perry is expected to launch his second presidential bid later in the week.

Perry's economic record in Texas is the centerpiece of his rationale for running.

10:30 a.m.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee wants Florida business leaders to know there's another Floridian running for president, not just former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

It's Huckabee himself.

Huckabee now lives in Santa Rosa Beach in the Florida Panhandle, a point he made clear at a Republican economic conference.

He says he's like a lot of other people in America — "now a Floridian."

Huckabee moved to Florida five years ago.

He's among a half dozen Republican presidential prospects addressing a Disney World gathering hosted by Gov. Rick Scott.

Huckabee talked about his proposal to replace the current tax code with a so-called fair tax. He calls the Internal Revenue Service "the biggest bully in America" and an "incredible monstrous rogue agency."

9:50 a.m.

The race for the White House in 2016 is between the old and the new.

So says Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. His message to a Republican economic gathering in Florida is that "outdated leaders" are clinging to "outdated ideas" in a nation that is transforming and needs new policies and people in charge.

He's the first of the Republican presidential prospects featured at the Disney World event hosted by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Rubio was a late scratch to the live program because of a Senate conflict in Washington.

But in a video message, he offered a heavy helping of indirect criticism at longtime political leaders like Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Jeb Bush.

Bush is set to address the gathering later in the day.

Rubio says that while the economy is changing, policies and leaders are not.

He says it's time for a new generation of leaders. At age 44, he certainly considers himself part of that generation.

9:18 a.m.

Republicans are gathering at Disney World where a half dozen GOP presidential candidates are set to address an "economic summit" organized by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

The Tuesday forum was supposed to be the first event where former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would share a stage in the state this year.

But Rubio was forced to cancel his in-person appearance late Monday night, due to business in Washington. He'll instead address the meeting in a recorded video message.

Bush headlines the program that also features Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Florida's primary is a winner-take-all contest, and Bush and Rubio are the favorites. But other Republicans are not likely to ignore Florida, because as the nation's largest swing state, it remains a key to winning the general election.

 

Analysis: Too many candidates?

The pool of Republican candidates is steadily growing, which begs the question: Is there a downside to having so many candidates in the race?

"Bush has little problem, because of his name, and he's run before," said our Republican political analyst, former Florida U.S. Rep. Lou Frey. "I think as long as they keep it positive, keep it honest, I think it's good for another two- or three-month run."

Dick Batchelor, our Democratic political analyst, said the candidates are beginning to fight among themselves, adding: "Ted Cruz is now fighting with Rand Paul. Rand Paul is really trying to make a name for himself with the Patriot Act."

Nine Republicans have officially made a bid for the ticket. Another six have expressed keen interest.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday announced he's running for president, but he did not attend Tuesday's summit.

Walt Disney World's Yacht and Beach Club Convention Center is located near Epcot. (PHOTO/Julie Gargotta, Staff)