The Florida GOP is facing some serious problems in the wake of former health care executive Rick Scott’s upset victory in Tuesday night’s gubernatorial primary. As it stands now, the party and its voters face division, bad poll numbers, financial troubles and scandal — and Scott starts the general election cycle trailing Democratic nominee Alex Sink.
Scott spent $50 million on the race to take down the party establishment’s choice, state Attorney General Bill McCollum — much of it on attack ads against McCollum. And so far, McCollum is not endorsing Scott. His campaign said that McCollum’s endorsing Senate nominee Marco Rubio and other GOP candidates, but isn’t mentioning Scott.
In fact, McCollum’s written concession statement didn’t even name Scott — McCollum only acknowledged his own defeat, and thanked everyone who supported his campaign. “This race was one for the ages. No one could have anticipated the entrance of a multi-millionaire 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,” McCollum wrote. “While I was disappointed with the negative tone of the race, I couldn’t be more proud of our campaign and our supporters for fighting back against false and misleading advertising when we were down by double-digits.”
There had been hints of this before primary day. In an interview last week with the NBC affiliate in southwest Florida, McCollum was asked whether he would endorse Scott in the event that the businessman won the primary. “I would sit down with him. I won’t say I won’t endorse him,” said McCollum. “But I’ve got more questions about him and his character, and whether he’s suitable to be governor than anyone I’ve ever had participate in any election in the years I’ve been running for public office.”
Then on Tuesday, before the polls had closed, it was announced that the party’s scheduled unity rallies for after the primary, which were to feature McCollum, Scott and Republican Governors Association chairman Haley Barbour (R-MS), were canceled. State party spokeswoman Katie Betta told the local press that it was purely a logistical matter. “We’ve opened our victory offices and have the resources in place to help all of our candidates after the primary,” said Betta. “At this point, Scott has chosen to not participate in that. But we hope to have a working relationship with whoever the nominee is.”
When Scott did win, even the Republican Governors Association’s official endorsement seemed lukewarm: “Intraparty struggles are often difficult to watch, and the contest in Florida has been a good example of that. That said, the primary is over, Rick Scott is the nominee, the general election has begun, and our party now looks forward.”
Then the RGA released another statement from Barbour yesterday afternoon, which was far more welcoming to Scott:
“I called Rick Scott this morning and committed the full resources of the RGA to his election as governor of Florida. I encourage every Republican in Florida to unite behind the Scott campaign and put on their chin straps because the real battle has just begun. It is going to take all of us pulling together to win.
“As a former national party chairman, I know all too well that primaries are tough and can be costly, but they can also make us stronger. The voters of Florida took a close look at Rick Scott and believe he is the candidate who can best revive the state’s economy and put Florida back to work. Rick Scott’s profile as an outsider with years spent in the private sector creating jobs is the type of experience Florida voters are looking for.”
And as a special bonus: The state party is low on money. As the Miami Herald pointed out, the state GOP’s latest financial filing showed they had just $54,000. This comes partly as a result of the scandals surrounding Jim Greer — the former GOP chairman who is under indictment for allegedly defrauding the party through its fundraising operation — and also the fact that much of the party’s corporate contributions went to pro-McCollum committees. The scandal surrounding Greer, not to mention other spending scandals surrounding state Republicans such as Senate nominee Marco Rubio, had already thrown the party into disarray before the gubernatorial primary threw even more complications into the mix.
In addition, the party has set up numerous coordinated campaign offices throughout the state for the general election, but have been left cash-poor headed into the home stretch. That’s not exactly a winning formula — though on the other hand, they could be helped by the fact that Scott has put no limit on his personal financing of the campaign.
The TPM Poll Average has Sink leading Scott by 38.8%-30.5%, plus 11.0% for independent Bud Chiles, going into the general election. Should be a fun race.