Watching Jon Corzine buy himself first a Senate seat and then the job of governor in New Jersey made me wary of billionaires and millionaires who decide, mid-life or so, to run for statewide office and outspend anyone who gets in their way.
(Of course, almost every political candidate is a bit more wealthy than the average Joe.)
But 2010 appears to be indeed the year for this kind of candidate. In California, you have Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. In Michigan, Rick Snyder just beat some big GOP names in the gubernatorial primary. In Connecticut, you have Linda McMahon. In Wisconsin, Ron Johnson appears to fit the bill. In primary after primary, we’re seeing voters overlook state legislators and state attorneys general because they prefer outsiders, with no ties to the current governing system, who tout their business and economic expertise. (It’s not just a GOP phenomenon; Jeff Greene looks like he’s about to run over Kendrick Meek in Florida’s Democratic Senate primary.)
Scott earned his stripes among conservatives during the Obamacare debate, financing and directing a massive nationwide advertising effort. But perhaps more importantly in this primary, he’s laid out a 7-7-7 plan: “7 steps will create 700,000 jobs in 7 years.“
Scott led the last four polls by wide margins. The two campaigns are filling up my e-mailbox with blasts back and forth. Jeb Bush’s endorsement has done little for McCollum; the two candidates debate tonight for what is probably the last time until primary day.
Democrats thought Scott would prove to be a political liability. Over at The New Republic, Ed Kilgore snorts that Scott’s bid “is beginning to look like a murder-suicide pact on the GOP’s gubernatorial prospects.” He should read more polls. Four of the last give in the state give Scott a consistent small lead in the general-election matchup against Democrat Alex Sink and Bud Chiles, who is running as an independent. And Scott hasn’t even begun running ads against Sink, the state CFO whose plans for insurance rates are being derided as “magic.”
Why has Bill McCollum’s previous polling strength disappeared? Scott’s millions upon millions in advertising are part of it, but he probably more accurately reflects Floridians’ “to hell with anybody in government right now” attitude. As state attorney general, McCollum isn’t at fault for Florida’s miserable housing market, high unemployment, and voters’ general dissatisfaction with the government they’re getting. But as a guy whose career in politics began with a 1980 election to Congress, he is “Mr. Old and Reliable” in a year when some of the most high-profile Old and Reliables have used up the last crumbs of the benefit of the doubt. (Think of Bob Bennett, Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist, Charlie Rangel, and Allan Mollohan.)
Throughout his career, Corzine has been accused of buying endorsements. (I would note that those transactions require someone to offer to sell those endorsements.) In this race, McCollum, the comparably underfunded candidate, has been endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Retail Federation PAC, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Dick Armey, Gary Bauer, and Newt Gingrich.
If Scott wins the GOP nomination, he will have won it the old-fashioned way: by earning it.
UPDATE: A reader in Florida adds:
I’m almost certain Scott’s rise in the polls is directly related to his stated support of, and McCollum’s stated opposition to*, Arizona’s immigration law. I don’t have occasion to conduct a Jay Cost-like analysis, but I’d bet the relationship between Scott taking the lead and his relentless ads on this issue is a direct one. I’d actually love to see an overlay of the timelines.This issue plays right into the “throw them all out” mentality, which is very real. McCollum has run for every elected office in Florida it seems, and–he can’t really help this, I guess–he even looks like Central Casting’s ideal of the careerist GOP establishment politician. But the deal breaker was the Ariz immigration issue. This one is over.
ANOTHER UPDATE: McCollum’s camp makes the case their man is pro-Arizona.