Florida Primary: Big Bucks Don't Always Pay Off It was outsider's night in Florida's Republican primary for governor, with big-spending upstart Rick Scott toppling veteran insider Bill McCollum. But billionaire investor Jeff Greene lost to Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.
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Florida Primary: Big Bucks Don't Always Pay Off

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Florida Primary: Big Bucks Don't Always Pay Off

Florida Primary: Big Bucks Don't Always Pay Off

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

We're still sorting through the results of yesterday's primary voting around the country. In Alaska, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski is locked in a close race with a political newcomer who has the support of Sarah Palin. Those votes are still being counted. In Arizona, John McCain easily won the Republican nomination as he seeks a fifth Senate term.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And in Florida, conservative insurgents scored another victory as Republicans chose wealthy outsider Rick Scott as their nominee for governor. The race for the state's Democratic Senate nomination was also closely watched. NPR's Greg Allen begins with the Republican race in this report from Miami.

GREG ALLEN: Although it's his first run for office, Rick Scott was not unknown in Florida. He's the former CEO of Columbia/HCA - a hospital giant that shortly after he left paid the government the largest fine ever for Medicare fraud. Scott now runs a chain of urgent care centers in Florida.�

He became well known last year by forming a group that ran ads opposing President Obama's healthcare reform. That helped make him a favorite with Tea Party activists.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. RICK SCOTT (Republican Gubernatorial Candidate, Florida): The people of Florida have spoken and I like what they've said.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: Scott will now be facing the Democratic nominee, Florida's chief financial officer, Alex Sink. At his victory party in Ft. Lauderdale last night, Scott said the Republican Party will come together. But that's not a sure thing.

Scott spent nearly $40 million of his own money on the campaign. In his hundreds of TV ads, his vicious attacks of Florida attorney general Bill McCollum angered Republican Party leaders, who asked him to cool it - without results. But last night, Scott made it clear he's now ready to turn his fire on the Democrats.

Mr. SCOTT: Today, the leaders of the others party - President Obama, Senator Reid, and Speaker Pelosi...

Unidentified People: Boo!

Mr. SCOTT: ...they're destroying the American dream for the next generation.

Unidentified People: Yeah!

Mr. SCOTT: We are not going to allow that to happen in Florida.

(Soundbite of applause)

ALLEN: The other multi-millionaire on the ballot yesterday in Florida, Democrat Jeff Greene, spent less than Scott - just 20-some million of his own money. But then he could afford it. Greene is a billionaire - a real estate investor who became better known in recent days for his yacht, the 145-foot-long Summerwind. Stories about wild parties onboard and about his guests - boxer Mike Tyson and actress Lindsay Lohan - didn't help his efforts to look senatorial. Last night at his victory party, Congressman Kendrick Meek said in the end Greene's money didn't matter.

Representative KENDRICK MEEK (Democrat, Florida): The people of the state of Florida stood with me tonight, ladies and gentlemen...

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Rep. MEEK: ...through 26 million plus dollars being spent against us.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

Rep. MEEK: We made history in this state.

ALLEN: If he's successful in the general election, Meek would make history in another way as well. He'd be the first African-American senator from the South since Reconstruction.

He faces not one tough opponent, but two. The Republican nominee to the Senate, former House speaker Marco Rubio, is popular among Tea Party activists and national conservative leaders, building a strong base of support that drove Florida governor Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary and out of the party. Last night, Rubio held a rally with his supporters in Miami.

Mr. MARCO RUBIO (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Florida): There will at least be one person in Washington, D.C. standing up to this agenda and offering in its place a clear alternative. It will be me, your voice from right here in Florida.

ALLEN: Florida Governor Charlie Crist, no longer a Republican, is now running for the Senate as an independent. In a year when voters are looking for something different, he said yesterday he likes the lane he's in.

Mr. CHARLIE CRIST (Independent Senatorial Candidate, Florida): I think that people are tired of gridlock. I think they want progress to be made in Washington for them. I think they're tired of people that think about the party before they think about the people. And that's what this campaign really is all about.

ALLEN: Crist's chances may depend on whether voters want to ditch the current partisan system or just change the party in control in Washington.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

MONTAGNE: It's NPR News.

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