You might not expect a race between the uber-boring Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum and the uber-rich former hospital exec Rick Scott to be a barn-burner. But the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary — a race no one really expected to happen in the first place — is making a strong claim for the title of nastiest primary race of the year.
Here’s a quick overview of the past couple weeks. McCollum, trailing in the polls to the self-funded Scott, turned it up to 11 with a mailer that says Scott, who made his millions as the CEO of Columbia HCA, “profited from abortion,” thanks to the fact that the procedure was performed at some Columbia-run hospitals. In response, Scott fired off a press release attacking McCollum for supporting Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 presidential race. How does a tie to America’s Mayor hurt McCollum in Scott’s eyes, you might ask? Like this: Scott says McCollum isn’t conservative enough because he “endorsed pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights candidate” Giuliani.
Like I said, nasty.
The tough words aren’t just on the campaign trail. In an interview with Politico this month, McCollum called Scott’s campaign “appalling” (that was right after the whole Scott-makes-money-from-abortions thing came to light).
Expect things to get nastier on Scott’s side of things as more details about the Florida GOP’s meltdown come to light. Scott has already tried to tie McCollum — a longtime big-name figure in state Republican politics — to the state party’s woes, and he likely won’t ignore the opportunity to do so again as the story returns to the front pages in Florida.
Why are things so hot and heavy in the race? Mainly because Scott has McCollum on the run. McCollum was marching toward his party’s nomination in the August primary when Scott came in and rained millions in campaign cash all over McCollum’s parade. Voters clearly weren’t that excited about McCollum, because the TV ads Scott bought worked better than many people expected — he’s now officially the frontrunner in the contest after a June 8 Qunnipiac poll showed Scott leading McCollum 44-31.
Republicans would probably rather not have Scott — who brings with him a ton of baggage — as their nominee. But Scott seems to have caught fire with some voters down in Florida, and that means McCollum has to get scrappy to fight him off. Expect this race to stay nasty all the way to the finish line.