Why Rick Scott Is Burying Bill McCollum
Around the State
Rick Scott's surge in the Republican gubernatorial primary contest with Bill McCollum provides more evidence of raging anti-incumbent fever.
Scott, a billionaire running his first political campaign, leads Attorney General McCollum 44-31 in the latest Quinnipiac Poll -- a shocking margin, considering that few Floridians even knew there was a Rick Scott a month ago.
In fact, many Republicans still don't know anything about Scott aside from what they've seen in his series of 30-second television ads.
Scott told Sunshine State News on Thursday that he's committed to reaching out to voters across the state -- in person. "My most effective strategy is getting out and talking to people," he said.
In a jab at McCollum and a Tallahassee-centric party establishment, Scott added, "We're trying to get voters -- not endorsements."
Now McCollum, who had previously aimed his TV ads at presumptive Democratic opponent Alex Sink for the November election, must turn his guns on a party rival who threatens to swamp his campaign.
Scott spokeswoman Jennifer Baker hailed Wednesday's poll saying, "Bill McCollum’s self-touted ‘silver bullet’ is in fact a silver boomerang."
McCollum, who represented Florida in Congress for 20 years before being elected attorney general in 2006, did not respond by deadline.
The Scott phenomenon mirrors the success of other upstart candidacies around the nation, where political novices have taken down veteran politicians.
The 57-year-old Scott, an Illinois native and Florida resident since 1997, holds a law degree and made millions as president and CEO of Columbia/HCA, which he helped turn into the largest for-profit hospital chain in America.
Though resigning under a cloud of controversy involving $1.7 billion in government fines against the company, Scott has, thus far, managed to nullify the negatives.
Political pundits, citing Scott's past, caution that a fully informed electorate has yet to be engaged in the gubernatorial contest.
The Quinnipiac poll noted, for example, that 60 percent of respondents said they could still change their mind between now and the Aug. 24 primary election.
Lance DeHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University, said Scott's odds in the primary "would be very slim if he were not a billionaire, but his financial assets make him a contender.
"Because Florida is such a large and diverse state, its electoral contests are fought out largely through the mass media ... and Scott is buying quite a lot of it."
Scott's outsider status appeals to an electorate increasingly skeptical -- if not downright angry -- about government.
Clearly, he has tapped into Tea Party angst.
Tom Tillison, a member of the Orlando Tea Party, recently sat in on an interview with Scott and came away impressed.
"He's clearly very driven, very goal-oriented and brings a business perspective," said Tillison.
Another person present at the two-hour meeting -- Terri Johannessen, state director for the 30,000-member Concerned Women of America -- sees Scott as a strong counterpoint to McCollum.
"People are fed up with politicians who waffle on issues like immigration. We're looking for more business people," she said.
The Quinnipiac poll reported that 86 percent of Florida Republican voters support the Arizona law and 84 percent want to see similar rules here.
Republican strategists, speaking on condition of anonymity, say McCollum squandering his early lead by being unduly risk-averse.
"He played it safe and his fund-raising has been anemic," said one South Florida consultant, who called McCollum's lawsuit against the federal health-care law "his finest hour."
Other Tea Partiers are leery of Scott's staying power.
"Cautious" about Scott's corporate past, Everett Wilkinson, regional director of the South Florida Tea Party, calls McCollum a "proven conservative who has been vetted over the years."
"Nothing mysterious will come out about McCollum," Wilkinson predicted.
Florida's Tea Parties also split on endorsement policies. While the Orlando group is considering endorsing in the GOP gubernatorial primary, the South Florida organization will not.
Election results this year suggest that Tea Party influence in large states isn't as strong as it is in smaller states. And while business-oriented conservatives have tended to fare better in primaries, observers say that could cut either way for Scott.
"There's distrust of people who made their money fast. There's a degree of anti-corporate sentiment out there," said one academic researcher who favors McCollum and asked not to be identified.
But that cash is paying off for Scott as his TV air blitz builds name recognition and positive first impressions. The candidate is believed to have spent upward of $11 million so far, on a pace to lay out a record $30 million for the primary campaign.
"You need to raise and spend enough to get the message out, and an outsider needs to invest dollars," Scott said.
"It's no different than if you start a business. If the person starting the business won't put up his own money, would you invest?"
The wider Scott's lead in the polls, the more vulnerable -- even desperate -- McCollum appears.
“Bill McCollum’s been in politics 30 years. You’d think he’d want to talk about his record. Instead, he’s just attacking me. That’s what career politicians do,” Scott stated in a recent TV spot.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.