With Haley Barbour’s announcement that he’s picking up some Florida talent for a possible presidential bid, Rick Scott’s longtime supporters have been abuzz with the story of how Scott firmly but quietly rebuked the Mississippi governor for meddling in Florida’s acerbic GOP primary.
“Haley, you cost me more than $7 million,” Scott had told him repeatedly, as if reciting a mantra, sources say.
The conversation came the day after Scott won the Aug. 24 primary in an improbable victory against Republican rival Bill McCollum and party insiders like Barbour, who was the head of the Republican Governor’s Association as it tacitly steered money to defeat Scott.
The behind-the-scenes support for McCollum was brought out in the open by Barbour, who issued a rare Aug. 17 proclamation condemning a Scott ad that tied McCollum to party boss Jim Greer.
"The truth is that Bill McCollum's leadership is part of what led to the removal of Jim Greer. This ad distorts the facts and was clearly created without any knowledge of what actually took place," Barbour said. "It has no place in this primary. We ask Mr. Scott to pull this ad and move forward in the primary in a constructive manner."
Scott’s response was simple: No.
He then doubled the ad buy, according to campaign sources and, in part, won office with this commercial as his closing argument in the primary race. The day after was like the beginning of the movie The Hangover -- there was a tiger in the suite. And it was Rick Scott. It was time for Republican leaders and insiders to come home to Scott. Scott wasn’t coming to them. Barbour learned that first hand.
“He called to say congratulations on behalf of the RGA, and probably expected the same platitudes back. Instead, Haley got an earful from Rick,” said one source. “From what I understand, I’m glad I wasn’t Haley on the other end of the line. Haley tried to avoid the topic, like there was no problem. Rick wasn’t having that.”
Scott cut him off at one point, according to sources who remember the following exchange:
“Haley, you shouldn’t have gotten involved,” Scott said.
Scott: “Haley, you cost me more than $7 million -- $7 million.”
Barbour poured on the Southern charm and tried to steer the conversation to letting bygones be bygones. But sources said, Scott wanted to make sure that the RGA felt his pain – after all, it helped underwrite ads calling Scott a “fraud.” Scott also wanted to make sure the RGA would support him and make good on its promise to spend $8 million in Florida.
“Haley, we want the $8 million,” Scott said at one point.
“Haley tried to tap dance around it, but Scott repeated himself. ‘Haley, you cost me more than $7 million,’” Scott reportedly said, repeating it a third time for emphasis.
The pledge was reaffirmed. The hatchet was buried. And Scott, Barbour and others soon shared the stage and a Republican victory Nov. 2 in Florida.
“Rick Scott doesn’t have any hard feelings,” said a source. “He was just very, very firm and he wasn’t going to get pushed around.”
The source said that, at the time, some in the Scott camp suspected Barbour had struck some sort of presidential deal with the Florida Republican power structure to further his possible presidential bid. Barbour's announcement that he's picking up former Romney advisor Sally Bradshaw only deepened the speculation.
But it's only speculation, suspicion.
"It really doesn't matter any more, what happened in the primary," said another source. "In the end, it’s not that big a deal because we won.”
True. But as Barbour plans to run in Florida, a coterie of Republicans in the nation’s most important swing state are like the party’s namesake elephants – they don’t forget, even if they forgive.