Faced with a choice between a long-serving politician or a wealthy businessman, Florida Republicans rejected the experience argument and nominated a political neophyte to run for governor.
Businessman Rick Scott defeated Attorney General Bill McCollum Tuesday to claim the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Scott took 47 percent of the vote to 43 for McCollum. Republican Mike McAllister may have played spoiler, taking 10 percent of the vote. With most of the precincts reporting, The Associated Press declared Scott the winner.
McCollum has not conceded the race, according to local news reports.
The Republican Governors Association put out a tepid statement of support for Scott Tuesday night.
"Intraparty struggles are often difficult to watch, and the contest in
Florida has been a good example of that. That said, the primary is
over, Rick Scott is the nominee, the general election has begun, and
our party now looks forward," spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
Scott and McCollum ran a negative campaign, which may have contributed to McAllister's showing.
Scott had dubbed himself a "conservative outsider" during the race and attacked McCollum, a former representative, for his House voting record and being a "career politician."
Meanwhile, McCollum accused Scott of being linked to Medicare and Medicaid fraud stemming from his time as head of Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain. Scott was forced out of the company in 1997 after the FBI raided several of the company’s hospitals, but he denied having knowledge of the fraud.
McCollum was backed by several prominent Republicans, including possible presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich.
He was expected to have a smooth ride to the GOP gubernatorial nomination but instead ended up facing the wealthy self-funded Scott, who has spent some $50 million on his campaign since entering the race in April.
The money went mainly to TV ads, which helped build up his name ID and attacked McCollum. The attorney general and his allies put $20 million into the primary, making it one of the most expensive on record in Florida.
McCollum ran into trouble when a psychologist he hired to testify against a gay couple trying to adopt a child was connected to the website Rentboy.com.
McCollum had personally requested that the state's Department of Children and Families hire psychologist George Rekers at $300 an hour as an expert witness to defend Florida's ban on gay residents adopting children.
Rekers's reputation disintegrated after reports that he vacationed for two weeks in Europe with a gay male escort from Miami he hired through Rentboy.com. The 20-year-old escort told reporters he gave Rekers nude "sexual" massages every day during their European vacation.
McCollum served 10 terms in the House, leaving in 2001 to run for Senate. He made two unsuccessful bids for the upper chamber, and was elected attorney general in 2006.
Earlier on Tuesday, Florida's chief financial officer, Alex Sink, captured the Democratic nomination. She was unopposed for the nod that her husband, Bill McBride, claimed in 2002. Sink said it didn't make a difference who the Republican nominee is. "My message is going to be the same," Sink told reporters Tuesday.
—This post was updated at 11:04 p.m. and 11:14 p.m.