The Florida Democratic Party’s first TV spot of the 2014 governor’s race airs this week and attacks Gov. Rick Scott over an old weakness: Medicare fraud. “Maybe you’ve heard about what was the largest Medicare fraud in history, committed when Rick Scott was a CEO,” says the ad. “Or that Scott’s company paid record fraud fines of $1.7 billion.”
The commercial is similar to those that appeared in the 2010 elections when Scott’s Republican rival, Bill McCollum, and his then Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, wanted to ensure that voters knew about the 1997 fine paid by Columbia/HCA, a hospital company Scott built. The Democrats’ ad, announced during the week that the statewide candidates qualify for office, serves as another campaign milestone as well as an indication of the extreme negativity in store for Floridians through November. The Republican Party of Florida responded by calling out former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic front-runner in the governor’s race, for receiving financial support from convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein and for appointing Jim Greer, convicted in an unrelated fraud scheme, to head the state GOP when Crist was still a Republican. When asked whether he needs to explain to voters what happened at Columbia/HCA, Scott attacked Crist, calling him “a mudslinger.” “Charlie Crist doesn’t have a record to run on. While he was governor, we lost 800,000 jobs. He left me with a $3.6billion budget deficit,” said Scott. “So, this is what he’s going to do. He’s a professional politician. He’s a mudslinger. This is what he’s going to do.”
The Scott campaign and the state GOP are focusing on the more recent past: the hundreds of thousands of Florida jobs created while Scott was in office compared with the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost between 2007 and 2011 under Crist.
Scott has now spent more than $13 million on TV already, about half dedicated to bashing Crist, who can’t afford to respond yet. The Democrats’ ad buy isn’t immediately clear. It’s supposed to be “six figures,” one Democrat says. A statewide ad buy usually has to be $1million a week to take effect. Democrats say they’ll ramp up to spend more in the coming weeks. This spot is set to air in the three media markets where Scott has spent the most: Tampa Bay, Orlando and West Palm Beach. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market is too expensive and too Democratic for Democrats to advertise here now. But the fact that the spots are going up in Tampa Bay, Crist’s home base, indicates that Scott’s spending has paid off, and they need to try to keep the incumbent polling below 45 percent. Ever since Scott took office in 2011, his poll numbers have been poor and tenuous for an incumbent presiding over an improving economy. It’s partly a legacy of the Medicare-fraud story that Scott’s opponents burned into the mind of the electorate. In 2010, Scott got fewer votes than the five other statewide office holders — all Republicans — including U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who fought a de facto three-way race with Crist (then a struggling independent) and Democratic Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek. The Democrats’ commercial is named “Answers” — a reminder of how few of them are directly given by Scott. The ad makes sure to mention how Scott pleaded his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination amid the federal investigation of Columbia/HCA. The ad highlights that as well. In the commercial, the video footage of a young Scott testifying comes from yet another deposition in another lawsuit, involving Central Florida hospitals.