In his first Panhandle campaign swing, Rick Scott, the balding former health care executive, sought to capitalize on his ubiquitous TV ads and lead in the polls.
But his stump speech on a six-county Whistle Stop tour lacked some oomph. Those watching said it’s not the message, it’s the messenger. Compared to agriculture commissioner hopeful Adam Putnam, a skilled talker on the trail, Scott looked, well, like Bill McCollum, his GOP rival: monotone and unexciting. “He’s McCollum without the career politician baggage,” a disappointed local GOP official said. The one consistent applause line in Scott's speech is his support for an Arizona-styled immigration law, which is political gold in the conservative Panhandle.
Before he begins to fret, Scott should take heart in what voters are saying. More than a half-dozen GOP voters who expressed support for Scott said his TV ad taking responsibility for the $1.7 billion fraud settlement from his time at the helm of Columbia/HCA settled the issue in their minds. “He stood up and addressed it head on,” said Aubrey Herndon, a teacher. This is bad news for McCollum who is repeatedly attacking Scott on the topic as he seeks to erode his rival’s 10 point lead.
And even though the day's events highlighted the lesser known and local candidates (from state representative to county commission and school board) Scott still attracted the most attention. His campaign staffers, wearing pressed shirts and dress pants, made for a presidential-styled entourage, especially with a Wall Street Journal and Associated Press reporter in tow. "I think he's an exciting candidate," said Republican state Rep. Matt Gaetz at an event. "I think he's good for our party."
Also possibly look for Alice Stewart , a spokeswoman for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to join the campaign. She did a trial run and interview during the campaign swing.
And despite spending $15 million on the race -- and debuting a new ad Saturday -- Scott's campaign confirms it is soliciting contributions. Scott held a high-dollar fundraiser in Miami on Friday night before flying to the Panhandle. The campaign said it's not the usual suspects giving money, though didn't name names.