September 11th, 2010
08:47 AM ET
12 years ago

Unity on the menu at Florida GOP dinner

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption ="Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott with his running mate, Jennifer Carroll."]Lake Buena Vista, Florida (CNN) - There was supposed to be a $50 million elephant in the room when Rick Scott addressed an audience of Florida Republican elites on Friday as the party's gubernatorial nominee.

That's the amount Scott, formerly the CEO of the country's largest private health-care chain, shelled out during his four-month primary battle against Bill McCollum.

The race quickly spiraled into negativity as both candidates traded charges, mostly via the state's expensive television air waves, about each other's character. McCollum, still stinging, has not yet endorsed Scott.

But at the Florida GOP's quarterly meeting, held at a pair of Disney World hotels on Friday and Saturday, there was little outward resentment toward Scott, a first-time candidate who never toiled in the party trenches like McCollum and his party allies.

"There's incredible enthusiasm with all our candidates," asserted Republican Party of Florida chairman John Thrasher, who feuded publicly with Scott during the primary over a television ad criticizing the state party. "Rick Scott and I have a great relationship."

Eager not to squander the chance to return a conservative to the governor's mansion in the wake of Gov. Charlie Crist's turn away from the GOP, party members made nice ahead of Scott's speech to the party's annual Victory Dinner on Friday, his first high-profile appearance before the state's Republican establishment.

"We're all big boys, and once the intramural match is over we all leave the field and get ready to face off against the other team," said Republican strategist Rick Wilson, who advised McCollum. "We played hard, but the reality is that Alex Sink would be a disaster for the RPOF, vastly larger than any hard feelings."

One of the party's first tasks at hand Friday was to offer a resolution that affirmed the party's support for Scott as the GOP nominee. It passed by unanimous voice vote.

That was followed by promises to back Scott from two of McCollum's top allies in the state legislature - incoming Senate president Mike Haridopolos and incoming House speaker Dean Cannon.

With Scott in the governor's mansion, Cannon told party members, Republicans would offer an "aggressive conservative agenda" to combat the "tide of economic socialism" emerging from Democratic leaders in Washington.

That anti-Washington message was the one Scott delivered as he addressed the dinner and attempted to link his Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, to President Barack Obama.

"Make no mistake about it, Alex Sink is an Obama liberal, and now she's trying to hide it from the voters of Florida," said Scott, who drew several standing ovations but also stumbled over his prepared remarks on a handful of occasions.

Scott's big debut, though, was overshadowed by a rousing and emotional address by Senate candidate Marco Rubio, a conservative darling who was making his first public appearance since the death of his father the previous week. Rubio choked up in the course of his remarks when discussing his family.

Rubio often refrains from taking unprompted potshots at his two opponents in the Senate race, but he could not resist throwing an elbow at Crist in front of the partisan crowd.

"This is not just a race between a Republican, a Democrat and an opportunist," Rubio said, grinning. "This election is a referendum on our identity."

The Victory Dinner was headlined by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a potential 2012 presidential candidate.

Barbour stressed the need for party unity in a year when Democrats around the country are fighting for their political lives.

"When you have a tough primary, people get their feelings hurt, people get perturbed about this that or the other, and
sometimes it takes a little time," he said. "But the fact of the matter is we have to come back together. We have to come back together because we are all on the same team for a reason. We are united by great ideas."

Sink's campaign responded to the evening of attacks by pointing to Scott's "shady business record" at the helm of Columbia/HCA, which paid a $1.7 billion penalty for Medicare fraud, the largest in the country's history.

"Alex Sink knows this election isn't about nationalized attacks, it's about who can attack the challenges facing Florida and create jobs here in our state," Sink spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said in an e-mail to CNN. "Alex brings her decades as a respected Florida business leader to the governor's office and has a real plan to grow our economy, improve our schools and support our small businesses."

Filed under: 2010 • Alex Sink • Charlie Crist • Florida • Haley Barbour • Kendrick Meek • Marco Rubio • Rick Scott
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Clwyd

    All across the country I read about republican candidates shelling out millions from California to Florida and states in between from their own fortunes. This should tell you republicans that your Party of No has No clue as to the needs of the American people! The haves know not about the have nots!

    September 11, 2010 09:05 am at 9:05 am |
  2. Phoney 86

    I have seen the President's birth certificate online and have read the republican governor Hawaii attest that it is true, yet I am a birther. I have seen hundreds of pictures of the Obamas in a church of Christ, but I believe he is a muslim. I supported Bush's redistribution of tax money money to the wealthiest Americans, but say that Obamas tax cut for 98% of Americans is socialism. When the president supports the constitution, and upholds the first amendment, I call him a muslim. I supported Bush's $11 trillion debt, but any effort by the president to get out of the near depression is sicialism. Other than my family and me getting social security and medicare and health reform, I am opposed to anyone else getting benefits. I support religious intolerance, and get my facts from Fox.

    September 11, 2010 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  3. Death Panel Sarah

    Sink will win, anyway, so he spent a bundle and did not even BUY the election!!!

    Rubio will lose also to Crist, looks like the tea baggers get the goose egg!!!

    September 11, 2010 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  4. Facts are not fair to the GOP

    Scott is a person found of wrongdoing, and had to pay a huge fine for medicare fraud. Since a large number of Floridians are on social security and medicare, maybe we can all thank Scott at the ballot box for higher rates and helping the system go broke. As for taking from the government, imagine how much more money he will have available to him in Tallahassee.

    September 11, 2010 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  5. ED FL

    Rubio can have his fifteen minutes of fame with the likes of people like him. But as the people of Miami who have thrived on government programs [including the Rubios] see that he wants to cut back on social security , medicare and other freebees most of Miamis Cubans get he probably will not even get their vote much less outside of Miami/dade county.

    September 11, 2010 09:25 am at 9:25 am |
  6. a in austin

    I can not believe that someone as corrupt as Rick Scott would even try to run for Gov. of FL. To know people voted for this despicable person is hard to fathom.

    September 11, 2010 09:28 am at 9:28 am |
  7. Alice

    My problem with Rick Scott (besides being a Republican) is that his business is everywhere BUT Florida. He speaks about Pres. Obama, whats going on with the Mosque In NY and everything else except the problems with Florida. If he's talking about resoulutions to Florida's economic problems, job growth etc. I'm not hearing it. He's just another Palin, wants to be on the national stage and will probably do what she did and resign early to pursue his interest. We need a governor, who's is willing to keep their focus on Florida.

    September 11, 2010 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  8. Snow

    While I did not vote for Scott in the primary, I will vote for him against the liberal loon demorat alex sink.

    September 11, 2010 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  9. GI Joe

    " . . .stressed the need for party unity . . . "


    In other words, party before country. Big insurance in Florida, a state where a lot of our elders live, makes a fortune off of those elders and buys their way into corporatist power. FISCISM at it's worst.

    September 11, 2010 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  10. anthony

    Is committing Medicare fraud a part of the aggressive conservative agenda Florida Republicans are campaigning on?

    September 11, 2010 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  11. johnsnow75livecom

    09/11/2010 Keeping America great at god save the queen and the america empire

    September 11, 2010 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  12. Ben Singleton

    Give Scott a break. The man was "charged" but not convicted of fraud. Many people are charged but who are totally innocent. If Scott actually has committed a felony, he will be punished by the appropriate court system. Until then, he is an innocent man. Hope you, dear reader, are not charged with something you are not guilty of and have the smarts to clear yourself. It is hard to prove oneself to be innocent, is is not? Listen to the people who have known the situation close up and not to Scott's opponents who will stretch the truth to their own interests.

    September 11, 2010 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  13. Alex will Sink Rick Scott

    GOP shot itself in the foot by nominating Rick Scott. The fact that he was at the helm of the biggest Medicare fraud scheme in US history will be is ultimate downfall.

    September 11, 2010 10:19 am at 10:19 am |