Rick Scott's campaign for the Florida governor's mansion is starting to look like his latest business acquisition.
In the 1990s, Scott exploded on the business scene and reshaped the hospital industry thanks to financial moxie, relentless drive and a salesman's knack for exploiting opportunities missed by others.
Those attributes have made the Naples millionaire the frontrunner for governor today. A political newcomer, Scott unexpectedly entered the race in April, hired a top-notch campaign staff and leveraged his sizable fortune to surge ahead of Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Aug. 24 Republican primary where career politicians appear more endangered than ever.
But Scott's successes have come at a cost.
As head of the mammoth Columbia/HCA hospital chain in the 1990s, Scott acknowledges, he was ``responsible'' for what became the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history, totaling $1.7 billion. McCollum and a coterie of well-financed Capitol insiders are bombarding television airwaves and mailboxes with ads and flyers to make sure every Florida voter knows about the scandal.
Scott, 57, brushes it off -- sometimes literally, by waving his hand as if shooing gnats.
``Attacks are life,'' Scott said when asked about the negative ads. Last month, voters asked him about the fraud case at nearly every stop of a six-day bus trip.
The questions underscore a conflict inherent in Scott's campaign: His business background and the Medicare scandal are inseparable. Scott -- who was not charged or fined -- said he didn't know about the troubles that unfolded on his watch, which raises questions about his leadership.