Florida GOP's Rick Scott has the marketing advantage

Miami HeraldAugust 29, 2010 

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Rick Scott and football broadcasting legend Pat Summerall worked the Jacksonville crowd before the Dolphins-Jaguars game, shaking hundreds of hands and mugging for photos for more than an hour.

But it was Scott -- not the famed sportscaster -- who was instantly recognized by throngs of fans just days before Florida's Republican primary election for governor.

"Oh, that's Rick Scott,'' said football fan Lynn Huff, who had trouble recalling Summerall's name. "He's on television all the time.''

Florida voters can expect to see the lanky bald guy a whole lot more on their TV sets between now and Nov. 2.

Scott already ran so many 30-second commercials that it could take almost 25 days to watch them all if one station showed each spot back to back, according to data from media buyers and the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

The Naples millionaire, who spent $50 million-plus to be the most marketed candidate ever in a primary, could double down by the end of the race and drop a record $100 million -- albeit with the help of donors.

Scott faces Democrat Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, and independent Bud Chiles -- both of whom have far less money and much less name recognition. Sink, who spent less than $3 million in a battle against a little-known opponent, is familiar with campaigns against well-known, well-funded Republicans. Her husband, Bill McBride was crushed in Gov. Jeb Bush's 2002 reelection.

``Every election is a tough fight,'' said Sink's pollster, David Beattie. ``This is no different -- especially against a guy who has unlimited amounts of money. He ran a three-dimensional campaign.''

The strategy and style of the campaign also offers voters a glimpse into the personality of the political newcomer, and foreshadows what's in store for his opponent come November.

Whether he wins in November or not, Scott's campaign already serves as a case study into the Madison Avenue-style elections in the fourth most-populous state.

Since unexpectedly announcing his candidacy in April, Scott's team has relentlessly polled the state and used focus groups of state voters, who were equipped with electronic dials to measure their response to campaign images and phrases. The campaign then packaged all the data together in a smooth -- critics say ``slick'' -- radio, television, mail and robotic phone call campaign at a level unseen in Florida.

RECORD SPENDING

Scott's $40 million in TV-and-radio buys exceeded the sums dropped by President Barack Obama's historic juggernaut in 2008 when he outspent Republican John McCain on air. Scott also assembled a team of paid staff and volunteers, and created enough buzz to ensure nightly televised news coverage at almost any campaign stop in the closing days of the Aug. 24 primary. All of it made the once-unknown Scott a political brand with a readily recognizable slogan: ``Let's Get to Work.''

But the Scott brand has a warning label: Medicare fraud.

Sink plans to make a campaign issue of the $1.7 billion fine paid by the Columbia/HCA hospital chain Scott founded and ran in the 1990s. In contrast, Sink's campaign says she helped make $1.7 billion in small-business loans when she was an executive at NationsBank and Bank of America in the 1990s.

Scott notes that Attorney General Bill McCollum made Scott's business scandals a central issue in the Republican primary. ``I won,'' Scott said. But the ads scarred Scott and left a highly negative impression among many independent voters. They don't get to cast ballots in partisan primaries, but they're the swing vote that decides general-election matchups.

Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com

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