Voters' Iron Will, Not Rick Scott's Money, Won the Day
Around the State
Let’s be clear. Rick Scott did not spend $50 million to buy the Republican gubernatorial primary, he’s not that dumb.
He knows it wouldn’t work.
I think the GOP excuse-makers know it, too. But they need something – anything – to explain what happened to their boy Bill McCollum, a 30-year career politician, the Florida attorney general, who in March had slam-dunk election chances and name recognition up the wazoo.
How on earth did he gobble up a war chest of $21 million in public and corporate and who-knows-how-many bundled contributions, and by July fall through the floor like a wrecking ball?
How does a thing like that happen?
On Tuesday night the chief excuse-maker of all made Scott’s money his night-ending whine.
Lamented McCollum, “No one could have anticipated the entrance of a multimillionaire with a questionable past who shattered campaign spending records and spent more in four months than has ever been spent in a primary race here in Florida.”
Outside McCollum’s spoiled victory party, supporters shook their heads and echoed their leader.
“That’s what money can do, buy an election,” said retired insurance agent Max Most.
Vast amounts of money – huge personal fortunes – are no guarantee of election success.
The American political landscape is littered with the failed campaigns and dashed dreams of self-financed millionaires. To name a few:
• In the 1970s, Florida’s Jack Eckerd, the drugstore founder said to be worth $150 million in 1975, spent approximately one-third of his net worth on his political ambitions. He ran twice for governor, once for U.S. Senate and lost all three times.
• In 1994, California oil tycoon Michael Huffington, a Republican, spent the best part of his $28 million fortune trying to defeat Democrat Dianne Feinstein for a seat in the U.S. Senate. With less than a quarter of his campaign money, Feinstein beat him by 2 percentage points.
• Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex, second-largest payroll processor in the U.S., spent a combined $93 million on three runs for governor of New York – in 1994, 1998 and 2002. He lost all three times.
• In 1996 and 2000, flat-taxer and publishing mogul Steve Forbes spent $70 million of his $430 million fortune to run for president. He never made it beyond the primaries. Even now he’s a serious political player, ranked the 10th most important political contributor in the U.S. Between 1999 and 2006 he made 15 campaign donations totaling more than $7 million. This year he donated to Florida U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio’s campaign. But he has said he will never again run for office.
• In 1992 and 1996, Texas billionaire Ross Perot, founder of Electronic Data Systems, ran for president on the Reform Party ticket. He captured 18 percent of the vote in ’92, 8 percent in ’96, and spent more than $70 million to do it.
What Rick Scott’s money bought was an opportunity to sell himself as a fresh face, a voice of marketplace experience, a leader with commonsense ideas and rock-solid conservative principles.
He spent his money to recharge and ignite a state with dwindling resolve to fix a bad economy.
And he hit a nerve.
Even with the emergence of the tea party movement, few could grasp how entrenched Floridians’ will for change had become. So much that it drowned out the litany of McCollum ads that painted Scott as a defrocked health-care executive who stole patients’ Medicare.
McCollum was the quintessential career politician, operating in the belly of the beast at the Capitol, in the shadow of a 2010 Legislature that had decried federal stimulus money but took it anyway. That called for Floridians to tighten their belts while legislators spent like drunken sailors. That arrogantly played political games with more determination and vigor than it created jobs or opportunities – or hope.
Now McCollum, graceless in defeat – who continues to sulk, refusing to throw his support behind Scott and even hinting he might back Democrat Alex Sink – is only proving he’s just like party turncoat Charlie Crist, after all. And he could do just as much damage to the Florida GOP.
The bottom line here is, money didn’t buy the election for Rick Scott, it only paid for his access to the voters.
In the end, it’s the voters who made the decision. The voters liked what they saw in Scott. The voters liked – in fact, are heartened by – the possibilities.
What a huge mistake it will be if, in the weeks to come, Rick Scott moves in from the outside. The once-hostile GOP establishment has him surrounded now, in the primary’s aftermath.
And while some of the touchy-feely is good for healing and party unity, so is staying out on the fringes, close to the voters who discovered him. That’s the best chance he’ll have of working miracles for Florida.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com, or at (850) 727-0859.