Rich Guys Finish Last? Big Spending Could Still Mean Big Failure In Florida Tuesday

How much does it cost to buy your way out of your past? In Florida, it looks like the answer is well north of $20 million to $30 million. That’s at least how much the two rich guys trying to buy their way into the voter’s hearts in the Sunshine State — Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Greene and Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott — have spent on their primary campaigns, respectively. And with a number of recent polls showing that each could be in trouble in the primaries they turned upside-down with their massive personal spending, it’s starting to look like Tuesday could be the day rich guys finish last.

Each man brings a lot of personal baggage to his candidacy. Scott is the disgraced former executive of a hospital chain that was slapped with more than $1 billion in fines for defrauding the federal government on his watch. Greene has had to run away from past personal associations with such luminaries as Mike Tyson, Heidi Fleiss and Lindsay Lohan. And that was before he had to explain his way out of becoming a billionaire by betting the mortgage bubble would burst.

Greene and Scott both seemed to think that spending big and going negative on their establishment opponents would bring them political fortunes as big as the ones they keep at the bank (or, more likely, a series of banks and complex investment schemes that no lowly Internet reporter could imagine in his wildest dreams). The game plan was simple: use your lack of name ID to run as an “outsider,” and use your overflowing war chest to trash your establishment opponent on TV.

The plan could still work. Greene and Scott could each still win. But there’s been a clear shift in the polls, and with one day before primary voters go to the polls in Florida, it’s looking more and more like a tough sell for both men.Greene took on Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democrats’ all-but-crowned nominee in the Senate race. When Greene got in, back in May, Meek — who had wowed the political establishment by clearing the primary field early and banking cash quickly — was already a forgotten bit player in the Senate race, which was dominated by the clash between independent Gov. Charlie Crist and Republican Marco Rubio. Greene bought millions of dollars of TV ads that blasted Meek as a corrupt insider. At first, with most Florida voters still unaware of who Meek was, the plan seemed to work brilliantly. Greene led one poll by double-digits as he ran his ads unanswered by Meek.

The trouble with becoming the frontrunner, however, is media scrutiny comes your way. And Greene has enough skeletons in his closet to cast a Jason And The Argonauts remake. It wasn’t long before Greene was hit with stories about what a terrible boss he is and NSFW slideshows of life aboard his now-infamous yacht. It also didn’t help that even in positive stories, Greene was often showing off his fabulous wealth — he gave one reporter a ride on his private plane and pointed out his mansion by calling it “the one with the swimming pool right on the water, with the tennis court behind it.”

Of course, Meek eventually piled on, too, launching his own statewide ad campaign slamming Greene and calling in political favors from his prominent establishment supporters in the Democratic party.

The result? The TPM Poll Average heading into tomorrow’s primary shows Meek ahead 38.8-27.7.

Check out the trend lines. Meek has surged while Greene’s numbers have taken a dive.

Certainly Greene could still win, but it would have to be called a surprising upset.

Total cost to Greene to get where he is today? $22.89 million, according to the Miami Herald.

Things are going only marginally better for Scott. He challenged state Attorney General Bill McCollum, who didn’t exactly inspire excitement in Florida’s Republican voters. Like Meek, McCollum was running basically alone when Scott decided to jump into the GOP primary for governor back in April. And like Greene, Scott went up with a torrent of negative ads aimed at ripping McCollum down while a second set of ads built up Scott’s credentials as an outsider beholden to none of the political masters McCollum was. Scott is less of an unknown than Greene, having spent another fortune astroturfing the Congressional town halls in 2009. That campaign gave him tea party cred, a powerful asset in any Republican primary these days.

Like Greene, Scott bounded out to an impressive early lead. McCollum was all but written off a couple months into Scott’s onslaught. But Scott had that whole Medicare fraud thing to deal with, as well as McCollum’s powerful friends. McCollum snagged public support from former Gov. Jeb Bush, still a hero to Florida Republicans, and even a defacto head of the tea party movement in FreedomWorks chair Dick Armey.

McCollum went on air with his own negative ads eventually, too, creating what has become quite possibly the ugliest election of the year.

The result? McCollum battled back to a slim lead. The TPM Poll Average for the primary shows him ahead of Scott 42.1-38.2. It’s still a tight race. And while most polls over the last two weeks have showed McCollum ahead, the latest poll from PPP (D) shows Scott ahead 47 to 40 — though even that is a huge shift in McCollum’s favor after the last PPP poll, conducted in mid-July, showed Scott ahead by 14.

Check out the trend lines. McCollum’s support has surged upward, while Scott’s numbers have steadily declined.

Of course, it’s still close enough to be anybody’s game. But it’s still been quite a comeback for the badly outspent McCollum.

Oh, and then there’s the fact that the nasty Republican gubernatorial race has let the assumed Democratic nominee, Alex Sink, turn the GOP infighting to her advantage and ease into a general election lead against both potential Republican nominees.

Total cost to Scott to run behind McCollum and help put Sink in the driver’s seat for November? At least $38,960,313 according to the St. Petersburg Times.

What’s that line again about a fool and his money? Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker says that when it comes to big spending in Florida’s races, voters just aren’t buying it. Without the political experience of their establishment rivals, Scott and Greene’s high-dollar negative blitzes may have still left voters unclear about what they were voting for if they punch the chad for either rich dude tomorrow.

“Wealth helps, but it can only get you so far,” Coker told the Miami Herald. “I still think a wealthy businessperson can win in Florida, but they have to have had strong ties to their local communities and charities.”