AP: Billionaire Rick Scott Beats Bill McCollum In Florida GOP Gov Primary

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Only in America: $50 million dollars of his personal fortune later, Rick Scott is the Republican gubernatorial nominee in Florida, the AP projects. Though Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum spoke moments ago and did not concede, with 90% of precincts reporting, Scott leads McCollum 47-43, and the AP and CNN have called the race.

This is how he did it. Starting as virtually a complete unknown, Scott blitzed Florida with TV ads ripping McCollum as an establishment sell-out. McCollum, caught off-guard and underfunded, tried desperately to battle back from the onslaught, emptying his campaign coffers and calling in public support from establishment leaders.

The mainstream Republican party had a reason to fear Scott. He carries with him the baggage of the $1.7 billion in federal fines leveled against his company, Columbia HCA, for Medicare fraud. Plus he’s extremely conservative, which could be a tough sell in a general election fight.

But in the end, all the establishment’s horses and all of its men couldn’t put McCollum together again. His campaign — never all that exciting in the best of circumstances — simply couldn’t raise the support needed to push McCollum past Scott’s big money and conservative message.Now, after a brutal primary, the GOP has a nominee that not a whole lot of general election voters are fond of. The TPM Poll Average for the general election fight shows Democratic nominee Alex Sink leading Scott 34.7-27.8.

When Scott got in the race, national Democrats were hopeful that Scott would beat McCollum in an expensive and drawn-out primary fight. Back then, they said they’d rather face the neophyte Scott than the seasoned — and more moderate — McCollum in a general election bout. Now Democrats got their wish, and Scott is the nominee Sink will face in the fall. That’s a positive development for Democrats hoping to win votes in the center this November, but all that glitters is not gold: Scott has another huge fortune to spend and doubtless he’ll do it in the fight against Sink.

Scott has a natural base among the tea party, who he helped mount protests against the health care reform process in the town halls last August. Though national tea party icon Dick Armey publicly endorsed McCollum, it’s likely that Scott will have little trouble keeping the tea party on his side thanks to his tough stances on immigration and other issues.

But Scott will have to rebuild himself into a viable nominee for a majority of Floridians, not just conservative Republicans. He’s shown he can leverage his vast fortune to project a positive public image, but before he turns to the general electorate he’ll have to mend fences with the GOP. That won’t be easy. McCollum has hinted that he won’t get behind Scott and the state party recently canceled it’s planned post-primary unity rallies due to lack of funds and, presumably, interest.

So Scott has his work cut out for him. Sounds like someone’s TV advertising team better get to work.

Late Update: Republican Governors Association spokesman Tim Murtaugh released a statement on Scott’s win, and it gives a nod to all the work Florida Republicans have to do after their divisive primary:

“Intraparty struggles are often difficult to watch, and the contest in Florida has been a good example of that. That said, the primary is over, Rick Scott is the nominee, the general election has begun, and our party now looks forward.

“Alex Sink has had months to run in a clear field and has not gained any traction, showing that her message has failed to connect with voters. She represents the policies of Washington, D.C. Democrats: higher taxes, runaway spending and greater intrusion into the everyday lives of Floridians.

“Couple her flagging campaign with the legitimate candidacy of Bud Chiles, and there is a real battle being waged for Democratic votes in Florida.”

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