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Scott leading in governor’s race

By Jim Saunders 
6/10/2010 © Health News Florida

Tapping his fortune to run television ads and mute questions about past troubles at Columbia/HCA, political newcomer Rick Scott has vaulted to the lead in the Republican primary for Florida governor, a poll released today shows.

Scott leads Attorney General Bill McCollum by a margin of 44 to 31 percent among likely Republican voters, according to the Quinnipiac University poll. Scott also leads the likely Democratic nominee, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, in hypothetical matchups.

Scott could spend tens of millions of dollars to finance his campaign. The St. Petersburg Times reported May 29 that he's expected to spend about $11 million on television and radio ads through the first week of June and is on a pace to spend about $30 million by the Aug. 24 primary.
 
Blanketing TV screens has not only raised his visibility, it has also given him a way to answer questions about his past. He was chief executive of Columbia/HCA at a time when the hospital was overbilling Medicare and Medicaid -- after his departure the corporation paid $1.7 billion in fines -- but he was never charged with criminal wrongdoing and he has said he knew nothing about it.

"Mothers may tell their children that money can't buy happiness, but what these results show is that money can buy enough television ads to make political neophytes serious contenders for major political office,'' said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

The Connecticut-based university regularly conducts political polls in Florida and other states. It released poll results today and Wednesday after surveying Florida voters this month.

The poll released Wednesday also found that a majority of Florida voters --- and 90 percent of Republican voters --- don't like federal health reform. When asked whether they "approve or disapprove of the federal health-care overhaul,'' 56 percent gave a thumbs-down, while 34 percent approved and 10 percent said they did not know.

The poll results do not show how voters feel about individual pieces of the massive overhaul plan. Other surveys have indicated voters nationally support parts of the package.

Scott and McCollum --- along with Republican legislators --- have banked on opposition to the federal health law as they have sought the GOP nomination for governor.

Even before he entered the governor's race, Scott ran television ads opposing the efforts by President Obama and congressional Democrats to pass the law, which includes requiring almost all Americans to eventually have health insurance. McCollum, meanwhile, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law.

To get the results in a Scott-McCollum matchup, Quinnipiac surveyed 814 likely Republican primary voters from June 2 to June 8. The results have a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

While Scott leads in the race, 46 percent of likely Republican voters said they hadn't heard enough about him to express an opinion. But 36 percent said they also had not heard enough to express an opinion about McCollum, though he was a longtime Central Florida congressman and has served as attorney general since 2006.

"In addition to being a testament to the power of television, Scott's ability to take the lead so quickly is also a reflection on McCollum's lack of strong support within his own party despite his two decades in Florida politics,'' Brown said in a prepared statement.

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail at jim.saunders@healthnewsflorida.org.