Forgiveness In Fla.: Reconciling After GOP Primary

Fla. GOP candidate for governor, Rick Scott, and his wife on his Unity Tour in Miami on Tuesday. i i

Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for Florida governor, and his wife, Ann, in Miami on Tuesday as part of Scott's Unity Tour. Scott will face Democratic candidate Alex Sink in the general election. J. Pat Carter/AP hide caption

itoggle caption J. Pat Carter/AP
Fla. GOP candidate for governor, Rick Scott, and his wife on his Unity Tour in Miami on Tuesday.

Rick Scott, the Republican candidate for Florida governor, and his wife, Ann, in Miami on Tuesday as part of Scott's Unity Tour. Scott will face Democratic candidate Alex Sink in the general election.

J. Pat Carter/AP

In Florida, wealthy outsider Rick Scott shocked the Republican Party establishment last week by winning the nomination for governor. Scott beat Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum in a divisive race in which he took broad shots at "career politicians" and "Tallahassee insiders" and spent some $50 million of his own money.

Now, as he ramps up his campaign against Democrat Alex Sink, Scott has another challenge: to unite his own party. The next set of campaign events requires a joint effort by Republicans — including those who opposed Scott, and whom Scott criticized, during the contentious primary race.

Outsider, Insider

One such event took place Tuesday at a recreation center in Sweetwater, a heavily Hispanic Miami suburb. It was a typical political rally, Miami-style: Senior citizens danced to the music of the Continental Brass Band.

On stage, Scott was surrounded by many of the career politicians and party insiders that just a week before supported his former opponent. But if Scott was uncomfortable, he didn't show it.

As far as he's concerned, that's all in the past.

"We're going to make sure we unite the party. We're going to make sure we talk to everybody in the state, talk to all the voters," he said. "We're going to make sure we're completely organized as a group. We want to welcome Democrats, independents and all Republicans into our message."

It was a markedly different tone from the one Scott took during his campaign, on the stump and in his ads. He relentlessly attacked McCollum — and Republican officials who supported him — in his ads, saying "the game is rigged" and that the state government was "by the insiders, for the insiders."

McCollum and his allies charged that many of the ads were false. Even the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said Scott was distorting the facts.

But that was during the primary. Since then, Barbour has essentially said that everyone makes mistakes.

"The campaign had an advertisement; it had something that wasn't factual. We called people's attention to that. ... That's the way it happens in campaigns. It's happened in my campaigns before. But, now that that's done, that's not an issue anymore," Barbour says.

Continuing Opposition

Not all Republican leaders in the state have been so quick to rally around Scott, however. The most notable one missing is his former opponent, McCollum, who so far has refused to endorse Scott. McCollum says he still questions Scott's credentials and his career as a former CEO of Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that paid a $1.7 billion fine — the largest ever — for Medicare fraud.

"Well, it's going to be natural for a lot of the leaders in the legislative delegation and others to choose to support him. That's their prerogative," McCollum says. "I've just given you my reservations I still have personally. I just haven't met him and don't know him that well."

Sink, the Democrat running for Florida governor, faced little opposition in her primary. Sink's ads sought mostly to capitalize on the divisiveness in the Republican race.

And she is still working to exploit any division she can find in the GOP. She just released her own list of Florida Republican officials who she said are supporting her campaign.

Scott has begun reaching out to Republicans to hear their concerns and build bridges. State Rep. Steve Bovo, a Republican from the Miami area, says he and others have questioned Scott since the primary about his support for an Arizona-style immigration law.

"Maybe the two biggest voting blocs in the state, the Puerto Ricans and Cubans, are not directly affected by this. But it would be very hypocritical on our part not to be concerned," Bovo says.

Despite his recent outreach, Scott says he's still a conservative outsider.

But after paying the bills for his primary bid out of his own pocket, he now says he'll be actively fundraising. The money is not just for his own campaign, but also to support other Republican candidates on the ticket. That means Scott will soon be raising money from the lobbyists, special interests and other Tallahassee insiders he derided just a week before.

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