Rick Scott was on the verge of kickstarting a one-man political revolution Tuesday when he appeared close to overcoming the might of the Republican establishment, the special interests who dominate the Capitol and a longtime politician determined to tar his character.
With 62 percent of precincts counted, Scott looked to cinch the Republican nomination for governor over Attorney General Bill McCollum.
A Scott win would bear witness to his personal wealth — he spent at least $50 million of it — as well as the thirst for political change in the Republican Party of Florida, which has been rocked by scandal and whose leaders worked to stop him cold.
With the state party chairman often by McCollum's side, the longtime politician leveraged his relationships with the incoming House and Senate leaders, who dumped millions into a smear campaign that revolved around a record $1.7 billion Medicare fraud fine ultimately paid out by the Columbia/HCA hospital chain that Scott founded.
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Scott exploded on the political scene with a multi-million television advertising campaign soon after he announced in April. Some Scott advisers believed McCollum's support was so weak that he'd leave the race or be an easy kill in the face of Scott's wealth.
By June, as Scott spent record sums, McCollum fought back by founding two electioneering committees that aren't bound by the conventional $500 limit on individual campaign donations. Able to raise and spend unlimited sums, McCollum hauled in more than $4.7 million in new money from heavy-hitting special interests in the Capitol. Scott, meantime, founded his own political committee.
Along with other political groups, McCollum and his supporters countered Scott's $40 million ad buys with nearly $14 million of their own.
Most of the McCollum ads were negative, highlighting the HCA fraud and raising questions about Solantic Urgent Care, a chain of walk-in health clinics Scott founded. Six days before running for governor, Scott was deposed in a civil lawsuit filed by a physician, but a settlement was soon reached and the deposition was sealed.
Scott refused to release the deposition, prompting a lawsuit from a McCollum supporter who sought to obtain the sworn video testimony. That prompted an enraged Scott to fly to Tallahassee to host an impromptu press conference where he was served with a subpoena — a maneuver that angered him even more. Video of the press conference was used in yet another McCollum attack ad.
In the final days of the campaign, McCollum's Florida First Initiative political committee hired a van wrapped with a sign that read "Release the Deposition." It was driven by two young men — one dressed in doctor scrubs and the other like a jail inmate — who protested Scott at campaign stops throughout Florida.
"Release the deposition! Your character's in question," one of the protestors, who would only say his name was "Doctor Dave, shouted through a bullhorn on Election Day before Scott cast his ballot at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Naples.
"This is what desperate career politicians do: They disrupt events and play dirty tricks to change the subject," Scott said.