Although Rick Scott's victory over Bill McCollum undoubtedly ranks as an upset, it wasn't completely unexpected. One polling firm, Public Policy Polling, predicted a full day before the August 24 primary that Scott would take the Republican gubernatorial race 47-40 percent. He ended up winning the GOP primary by a 47-43 percent margin, with Mike McCalister taking a stunningly large third place finish at 10 percent.
The question everybody seemed to be asking Tuesday night was: Who the f*ck is Mike McCalister? Okay, we learned (the day after the primary) that he's a former colonel in the military, but I can tell you this — it's doubtful that the 10 percent of the Republican electorate that voted for McCalister knew much about him either. He was in fact the human embodiment of "None of the Above" (which is an actual listing in ballot races in Nevada).
Clearly, this was one of the all-time most negative races in modern Florida politics. The fact of the matter is that there was a solid group of Republican voters who were never sold on McCollum, knowing him all too well. But they could never vote for Rick Scott either, given the amazing lack of policy knowledge he demonstrated in the campaign, and also that little issue with Medicaid fraud while he served at Columbia/HCA. Not that that hurt him at all.
But there's another name you could give those who voted for Mike McCalister: Alex Sink voters.
Sink is a centrist. Democrat in party label, she certainly isn't liberal (though of course the Republican party establishment, which Rick Scott has sort of become part of as their nominee now, began spouting that tired line Tuesday night, lumping her in with the Obama/Pelosi/Reid cabal in his victory speech).
Although most pundits will ignore it, check out the fact that Sink's only Democratic party opponent, Spring Hill resident Brian Moore (the 2008 Socialist candidate for president) received 23 percenta of the vote, meaning nearly one out of every four Democrats who went to the polls deliberately chose not to vote for Sink. I'm going to speculate that some of that vote was from the Democratic Left, thoroughly unimpressed by Sink's primary campaign (such as it was).
Sink may take pride in that. She'll run as a centrist all the way through, and showed that last week when she was careful not to get within camera shot of Barack Obama at a campaign appearance in Miami. She has already proven she can gather Republican support, as she did in beating Tom Lee for CFO in 2006. The only negative for her (and state and national Democrats) is that she will have to spend a slew of cash to try to compete with the tens of millions of dollars that Scott will have no problem spending.
As far as Rick Scott's ability to get along with his new buddies in the Republican Party, we can't wait to watch that unfold. So far, it hasn't been an auspicious start.
The awkwardness began Tuesday night, when Bill McCollum addressed his supporters by... not conceding, even though the race was settled enough at that point for the Associated Press to call it a win for Scott just moments after McCollum's speech. The strong stench of denial was firmly in the air even before McCollum spoke to his fans in suburban Orlando, when one of the many Republican legislators supporting him, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, embarrassingly addressed him as "the next governor of Florida!"
The entire Florida Republican establishment — led by party chair John Thrasher, down to GOP demi-god Jeb Bush, to incoming state legislative leaders Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos — all strongly backed McCollum and spoke at times critically of Scott. They were really angered when Scott began airing television and newspaper ads accusing McCollum of being in cahoots with the now disgraced former chairman of the party, Jim Greer, who has been indicted on grand theft and money laundering charges (the ads stated "The McCollum-Greer connection: Documented. Air-tight. Undeniable.") PolitiFact ruled Scott's charges as untrue. And as it became apparent Tuesday night that Scott might in fact be the nominee, the RPOF suddenly announced that the state party had abandoned plans for a unity event they were attempting to hold the next day in Tampa.
Although political writers made much about the fact that Kendrick Meek never said he would endorse Jeff Greene if Greene beat him, the fact is that Bill McCollum pointedly refused to answer similar questions posed to him (as CL did at a Tiger Bay event in Clearwater) on whether or not he'd ever endorse Scott if Scott beat him. And what about Jeb Bush? What's he gonna do?
Moving on, there has been much discussion about the enthusiasm gap this year. Democrats led in all surveys leading up to the 2006 and 2008 elections when asked how fired up they were to vote, and the results later in November proved those polls were accurate.
In 2010, that enthusiasm gap is all about the Republicans. The votes cast for Marco Rubio amounted to 354,683 more than the all the votes for the Democratic Senate candidates combined.
Speaking of the U.S. Senate race, no doubt the Tampa Bay area will again be ground zero for that highly anticipated contest, as both Rubio, Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek all held campaign appearances in Tampa or St. Pete the day after the primary.
Meek won decisively on Tuesday night, whipping Jeff Greene by a 58-31 percent margin. That strong victory was mitigated by numerous reports of Meek voters telling reporters that they plan to turn around and vote for Governor Crist in the fall. That problem surfaced shortly after Crist turned indie in late April — and with it, Democrats who told themselves that Meek couldn't win, and that Rubio was unacceptable, and comments that "Hey, maybe Crist ain't that bad after all" began to build. Meek may be able to win some of those voters back, but will it be enough for him to get competitive in the race?
The state attorney general race looks like a classic: Former Hillsborough County Prosecutor Pam Bondi takes her Fox News commentary pedigree against one of the Florida Democratic party's stars, Miami Beach state Senator Dan Gelber, who manhandled Dave Aronberg by a 59-41 percent margin. Looks like those BP ads against Gelber by Aronberg didn't do the trick.
Locally, the biggest race in Hillsborough County was the Democratic primary for the District 3 County Commission race, where longtime state legislator Les Miller stunned the embattled incumbent Kevin White, beating him and newcomer Valerie Goddard.
A year ago White was found guilty of sexual harassment, and subsequently it was found that the county commission (and thus the taxpayers) were on the hook for White's legal defense, which came to over $435,000. The county sued White — he sued back. Some members of the black community — and White himself — said he'd been lynched by the local press, and that he had the support of the community.
But based on Tuesday's vote, he decidedly did not, as the District 3 voters threw him out of office, giving him only 20 percent of the vote. And in another closely observed Hillsborough County Commission race, Republican Mark Sharpe held off a challenge by transit tax critic Josh Burgin.