The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rick Scott is attending freshman orientation before all the votes are counted. Is that normal?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is planning to attend this week’s new member orientation in Washington, where the incoming class will be shown where the bathrooms are, have their class picture taken, and then vote with next year’s Senate GOP caucus on its leadership.

Scott, despite his self-assurance, has not technically won the Florida Senate seat yet. He leads incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) by about 12,000 votes as Florida election officials hurriedly work through a machine recount that could very well lead to a second recount performed by hand.

Scott’s attendance on Capitol Hill this week is without recent precedent.

That’s mainly because statewide election recounts are extremely rare. Of the 4,687 statewide general elections held between 2000 and 2015, just 27 were followed by a recount, and only three were Senate races, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan FairVote.

Two of those three Senate races produced a new senator like Scott.

The 2000 Senate race in Washington went through a recount before Democrat Maria Cantwell was deemed the winner, ousting an 18-year GOP incumbent by a mere 2,229 votes. By the time the freshman orientation was held in early December, the recount had finished and she was the senator-elect, according to news reports at the time.

But in 2008, the Senate orientation was held before the winner in the Minnesota election had been determined. Sen. Al Franken (D) waited out the results and did not participate. He did go down to Washington and meet with Democratic leaders that same week, which was seen as presumptuous by Republicans, according to the Star Tribune.

So, Scott may be the first candidate, at least in recent memory, to attend an orientation as a senator-elect before actually being the senator-elect. (The Senate historian does not keep this information.)

David O’Brien, an attorney with FairVote, said he doesn’t have a problem with a candidate getting prepped and being ready to go in the event they do win, but he said there is also an optics issue to consider.

Critics of Scott have pounced on his attendance as premature and disrespectful of the arduous recount going on back in his state.

O’Brien said it is more common for House candidates in undecided races to attend freshman orientation — there’s sure to be a handful of them there this week.

But it has its risks.

Our colleague Paul Kane recalled that back in 2002, a Democratic candidate in a tight race in Colorado came to Washington for orientation and voted in the leadership election. Then-congressman, now-Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) beat Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) in a race for the House Democratic Caucus chairmanship by one vote.

That guy from Colorado voted for Menendez. He went on to lose his election and never served in Congress.