The Florida Democratic Party's first TV spot of the 2014 governor's race airs this week and attacks Gov. Rick Scott over an old weakness: Medicare fraud.
"Maybe you’ve heard about what was the largest Medicare fraud in history, committed when Rick Scott was a CEO," says the ad. "Or that Scott’s company paid record fraud fines of one-point-seven billion dollars."
If you haven't heard, then your memory is bad or you didn't turn on a Florida TV set during the height of the 2010 elections, when Scott's Republican rival and then his Democratic opponent ensured that voters knew about the 1997 fine paid by Columbia/HCA, a hospital company Scott built.
The Scott campaign and the state GOP is focusing on the more-recent past: the hundreds of thousands of Florida jobs created while Scott was in office compared with the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost between 2007 and 2011 under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Democratic frontrunner in the race.
The Republican Party of Florida responded by calling out Crist for receiving financial support from convicted Ponzi scheme Scott Rothstein and for appointing Jim Greer, convicted in an unrelated fraud scheme, to head the state GOP when Crist was still a Republican.
“If Charlie Crist wants to talk about trust and ethics, just ask him about his felon friends who said Crist had direct knowledge of their illegal and unethical behavior," said Susan Hepworth, RPOF's communications director. "Or, you can ask the voters that he lied to for many as a Republican, or the Democrats he now claims to be telling the truth to.”
Scott has now spent more than $13 million on TV already, about half dedicated to bashing Crist, who can't afford to respond yet.
The Democrats' ad buy isn't immediately clear. It's supposed to be "six figures," one Democrat says. It has to be that. At least. A statewide ad buy usually has to be $1 million a week to take effect. Democrats say they'll ramp up to spend more in the coming weeks.
This spot is set to air in the three media markets where Scott has spent the most: Tampa Bay, Orlando and West Palm Beach.
The Miami-Fort Lauderdale media market is too expensive and too Democratic for Democrats to advertise here now. But the fact that they're going up in Tampa Bay, Crist's home base, indicates that Scott's spending has paid off and they need to try to keep the incumbent polling below 45 percent.
Ever since Scott took office in 2011, his poll numbers have been poor and tenuous for an incumbent presiding over an improving economy. It’s partly a legacy of the Medicare-fraud story that Scott’s opponents burned into the mind of the electorate.
In 2010, Scott got fewer votes than the five other statewide office holders -- all Republicans -- including Sen. Marco Rubio, who fought a de facto three-way race with Crist (then a struggling independent) and Democratic Miami Congressman Kendrick Meek.
The Democrats’ commercial is named "Answers" -- a reminder of how few of them are directly given by Scott.
The ad makes sure to mention how Scott pleaded his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination amid the federal investigation of Columbia/HCA. The Democrats' ad highlights that as well.
In the commercial, the video footage of a young Scott testifying comes from yet another deposition in another lawsuit, involving Central Florida hospitals.