LAKEWOOD RANCH — After a bruising battle for the GOP gubernatorial nomination between Rick Scott and Bill McCollum, local Republicans rallied around Scott at a campaign fundraiser Wednesday night.
Developer Pat Neal announced that local Republicans had raised more than $531,000 for Scott’s war chest.
“I think you will change things. You will give us our hope back,” Neal told Scott.
Neal said it was the largest local political fundraiser yet, eclipsing the $188,000 that many in the room had helped raise for McCollum.
Scott, former chief executive officer of health care giant Columbia/HCA, spent more than $50 million of his personal fortune in defeating McCollum with a blitz of TV advertising.
“It’s never easy. Raising over a half million dollars is a big deal,” Scott told local Republicans who filled the large Fete Ballroom at Lakewood Ranch.
Scott, who faces Democrat Alex Sink in the Nov. 2 general election, said that if he is elected he will ensure that small business has access to credit, that government red tape that is “strangling business” is cut, that the business tax is eliminated, and that Florida’s economy becomes the best in the nation.
He also promised to cut the size of government, and to take a whack at “unbelievable waste.”
“There is no reason that we shouldn’t be No. 1 for job creation,” he said.
Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he originally supported McCollum, but that was before he knew Scott planned to run.
“He has created jobs; we need a shift in Tallahassee,” Bennett said.
Bennett said he looks to Scott as the candidate who could bring pensions under control, and give business access to credit.
Vanessa Baugh, a member of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, said she supported Scott because Tallahassee needs some fresh blood.
Kathleen King, chair of the Manatee County Republican Party, said the “fundraising amount speaks volumes and that she felt great excitement and energy in the room.
Jane Grace, of Manatee Forum Republican Women Federated, said she likes the change in direction represented by Scott.
“I’m tired of the same old, same old,” Grace said.
Bennett said Scott was born into poverty, and was a self-made success.
“We have an opportunity we haven’t had in a long time,” Bennett said.
Scott said that he is up to the task of streamlining Florida government, and rekindling the American dream.
He said he would deal with all the problems that give people from other states pause about living in Florida, including property insurance, property taxes and the need for tort reform.
Scott, who beat McCollum despite repeated attacks on his character for the $1.7 billion fine paid for Medicare fraud by his old company, Columbia/HCA, made no mention of that scandal.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.