Politics & Government

Florida GOP reeling over Rick Scott's primary victory

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla. — For powerful Tallahassee insiders accustomed to winning, Rick Scott represents their worst fears.

But they have an even bigger worry: Democrats might win in November.

Many top-tier lobbyists don't know their Republican nominee for governor. They backed Bill McCollum, pumped millions into his primary campaign, and lost. Now, with party control of the Governor's Mansion at stake, they mounted an effort Wednesday to show that Republicans are one big happy family.

Scott, who avoided the spotlight a day after victory except for a CNN interview, said party unity is being repaired. He cited statements of support from the Republican Governors' Association, state legislative leaders and Republican Party Chairman John Thrasher.

``We're going to put it back together,'' predicted Thrasher, the state senator who last week demanded Scott take down a TV ad he called ``patently not true.'' Thrasher heads to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday in an attempt to make peace with Scott.

It might not be easy. Scott spent a fortune cementing an image as an outsider untainted by ``special interests,'' and to accept their money and advice could invite an accusation that Scott isn't being true to his cause.

``This stuff gets passionate, but it's over and now we move ahead,'' Thrasher said. To the notion that some Republican lobbyists or groups might defect to Democrat Alex Sink, Thrasher said: ``Absolutely not.''

Some say the task of unifying Republicans is Scott's job, others say it is the role of party leaders who took the rare step of getting aggressively involved in a primary battle.

Mark Wilson of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, a leading business organization that raised and spent about $1.5 million to nominate McCollum, said Sink called him to ``reach out,'' but Scott hadn't. Wilson said Sink, a former Chamber board member, would get consideration for the group's support, as will Scott. ``We're going to hit the re-set button,'' Wilson said.

At Associated Industries of Florida, which co-endorsed Scott and McCollum, CEO Barney Bishop predicted Scott will attend a Republican Party victory dinner on Sept. 10 and ``they'll all be singing Kumbaya.''

``Ultimately,'' Bishop said, ``Republicans know that to win this governor's race they are going to have to come together.''

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, who used his political committee to finance a barrage of negative ads against Scott as campaign help for McCollum, called the bitter feud ``water under the bridge.''

He compared it to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008: ``When the election was over they got back together, forged an alliance and won two years ago. I expect Rick Scott to be in it to win. I'm in it to win.''

After declaring victory, Scott predicted the party would unify, then threw one last jab. ``The deal-makers are crying in their cocktails,'' he said in his victory speech.

That wasn't far off. An election night gaggle of lobbyists, gathered at a Hilton along Interstate 4 near Orlando to crown McCollum as the GOP nominee, quickly became a political wake.

As they packed their bags and checked out Wednesday, many of the same lobbyists wore shell-shocked looks. Asked if he would raise money for Scott like he did for McCollum, U.S. Sugar Corp. lobbyist Robert Coker said: ``Rick Scott looks like he doesn't need any money.''

Some Republicans worry that Scott's willingness to pay for his own campaign could make the party irrelevant. ``To have a free-wheeler spend this kind of money is telling a lot of people that he's not necessarily going to work with the party,'' said Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. ``A lot of people are saying, `What are we going to do?' ''

Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com.

Related stories from McClatchy DC