Rick Scott's narrow victory over Attorney General Bill McCollum, the preferred candidate of the Republican establishment, in the Florida gubernatorial primary could cost the GOP a key governorship in a race that could have implications for years to come.
The deep-pocketed Scott, who spent nearly $40 million in the nasty and bruising campaign, was the CEO of the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, which was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud not long after he left. That's a powerful talking point for Democratic opponent Alex Sink, who was content to watch McCollum and Scott attack each other while she easily cruised to the Democratic nomination.
Republicans' lack of enthusiasm over Scott's win was evident in a statement that went out this morning from Republican Governors Association spokesman Tim Murtaugh that fell quite a bit short of sounding like a celebration.
"Intraparty struggles are often difficult to watch, and the contest in Florida has been a good example of that," he said. "That said, the primary is over, Rick Scott is the nominee, the general election has begun, and our party now looks forward."
Scott's strongest argument against McCollum was that the latter was a "career politician" who had become part of the Washington problem; that argument doesn't work against Sink, whose only job in politics has been as Florida's chief financial officer since 2007. (Scott was also helped in the primary by the perceived connection between McCollum and the Florida Republican party, which has been mired in scandal, another advantage he loses in the general.)
The outcome of this race is particularly important because 2010 is a census year, and the Florida governor will wield significant power when it comes to how districts are redrawn; if Sink wins, districts that have been gerrymandered to benefit the GOP could be reset to Democrats' advantage.
Scott, who has a bad relationship with both the state and national GOP, will continue to pour his personal fortune into the race, but look for national Democrats - who see the race as a prime pickup opportunity in a grim year - to follow suit on their candidate's behalf. A Quinnipiac University poll this month showed Sink leading Scott 33 percent to 29 percent in a general election matchup.More election coverage: