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Race for Governor Tightening

Scott headshot
Governor Scott's Office
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott

Tallahassee, FL – A new poll shows the race for governor tightening. Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink is pulling even with Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum in the general election, while new GOP candidate Rick Scott is gaining on McCollum in the primary. And as Margie Menzel reports, the son of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles is pondering whether to enter the Democratic race.

[Come in on Jeb Bush's voice: "Tough times call for proven leadership. Bill McCollum is a principled conservative with a record of doing what's right for Florida."]

McCollum began airing a statewide TV ad Friday featuring former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is going public with his support at a crucial moment in the race. McCollum has been leading all rivals, in his party and out, but now polls are showing Sink within the margin of error and Rick Scott, former chief of Columbia HCA Corporation, carving out close to a quarter of GOP voters. Scott has spent millions of his own money on radio and TV ads since entering the race last month. McCollum - who soundly defeated Scott, 218 to 34, in Saturday's Hillsborough County Republican straw poll - said he's not changing his strategy.

"Obviously, we take anybody who's a multi-millionaire seriously," McCollum said, "but at the end of the day, Florida voters - as they know more about Rick Scott's record and my vision for the state, I'm confident they going to vote for me to be the Republican nominee and the next governor."

Scott's record is definitely campaign fodder. He was CEO of Columbia/HCA in the 1990's, leaving as the company was being investigated for defrauding Medicare of billions. Scott claims that he knew nothing of the fraud, for which the company eventually paid a one-billion-dollar fine. Political scientist Susan McManus said his rise in the polls owes much to the hunger of voters for a new face.

"Some of McCollum's difficulties are that he is seen as a longtime politician," said McManus. "And that, right now, is hurting a lot of people who have been in office a long while. This seems to be one of those years when longevity in office is the worst credential to tout."

McCollum agrees, but said it's a national trend, not just statewide.
"There is a restlessness, a desire to see some change in direction, but not just change for change's sake," he said. "I think people found that word was the wrong word when they elected president Obama in the presidential election a couple of years ago."

So far the third GOP candidate, state Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, hasn't gained much traction against McCollum, polling in the single digits. But the race between the parties has been tightening, with a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll out Saturday showing McCollum with 34 percent, Sink with 32 percent, and a margin of error of 4 percent. McManus says the Democratic National Committee - if they want to win Florida - should be helping Sink introduce herself to voters.

"I think a lot of people have been urging Alex Sink to get out there with a biographical ad," said McManus. "People are looking for new faces, and she's not a household name, even though she's Chief Financial Officer and has won a statewide race."

Sink has collected more than $6 million, and was thought to have no serious obstacles on her path to the Democratic nomination. But Lawton "Bud" Chiles III said last week that he's poised to enter the primary partly because he hasn't heard what he wanted from Sink. Since floating his trial balloon, though, Chiles hasn't returned calls from this and other news organizations, but McManus said that doesn't mean no one's talking about him.

"It's creating quite a stir among the politically attentive Floridians - which, granted, is not a huge number of voters, but the fact that he's put out this leak and that he seems to be serious about it has obviously created quite a buzz among the political class."

Sink - like McCollum - said a Chiles candidacy wouldn't change her campaign.
" because what I'm doing is, I'm traveling around the state of Florida, I am talking to the people of Florida about my very specific business plan for turning our economy around and putting people back to work."

Nor is she concerned about not having an ad up.

"People are just now beginning to pay attention to the governor's race," she said, "and as we go into the summer, my campaign is certainly building up."

And now, said McManus, conventional wisdom is no good to any politician.

"Just when you think the fields have jelled in various races, somebody else throws their hat into the ring," she said. "People spend a lot of money, the polls change - there's just such a tremendous uncertainty right now that analysts are somewhat nervous about making sure predictions. And I happen to fall into that category."

"I think nobody knows what's going to happen in November."

The primaries are on Aug. 24.