Florida is one of nine states in which the gubernatorial race is classified as a toss-up by political, analysts including Real Clear Politics, Congressional Quarterly, and the Cook Political Report. Democratic candidate Alex Sink is the state’s chief financial officer and is vying to become the first female governor of Florida. Republican candidate Rick Scott is a self-funded prospective newcomer to political office whose background is in the health care industry.
The 2010 Florida gubernatorial race puts the power of big money to win political office to the test. In what was dubbed the most expensive primary in the state’s history by the Sun-Sentinel and other media outlets, Scott spent some $50 million to upset his Republican primary opponent. According to campaign spending reports submitted to state election authorities, Scott has outspent Sink more than 10-fold with $37 million to her $2.9 million reported thus far. Scott’s net worth is reported to be $218 million.
Candidate: Alex Sink
Political experience: Sink has been Florida’s chief financial officer since 2007. Sink has concurrently served as the state’s fire marshall.
Professional experience: Prior to entering into the race for chief financial officer in 2006, Sink was a president of Bank of America, according to Project Vote Smart, where she exerted authority over the bank’s Florida operations. She also taught mathematics in West Africa.
Sink received a bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University.
Key issues: Sink has designated the economy, education and ethics in government top issues in her campaign and has challenged her opponent to debate her on those issues.
On the economy, Sink has developed a Revive, Remake and Reform strategy that is intended to create and save jobs in the short run and attract diverse industry for the long term. She wants to reform state government to boost private sector confidence in the state’s commitment to helping businesses succeed.
Sink’s approach to education is to expand pre-kindergarten programming, including the exclusive use of teachers with bachelor’s degrees and standard curriculum in pre-k classrooms. With respect to secondary students, Sink advocates a dropout detection system and increased career and tech academies. She supports performance pay for teachers, state university student loan forgiveness for high performing teachers and increased focus on leadership skills and certification for principals.
Corruption in Tallahassee has been a resounding theme in the primary races in Florida. Sink’s ethics plan for battling corruption would ban lobbyists’ gifts to state employees, expand the State Ethics Commission’s powers, require recusal by state officials with conflicts of interest, ban no-bid contracts to campaign staff and consultants and require officials to place personal investments in blind trusts or mutual funds during their term of office.
Endorsements: Sink was endorsed by President Obama and Emily’s List prior to the Florida primaries and was endorsed by a former Independent candidate for governor, Bud Chiles, shortly after when he dropped out of the race. Sink’s post-primary endorsements also include several Republican politicians from the state, including the mayors of Bradenton, Atlantic Beach, Ft. Pierce and Cedar Keys.
One of several newspapers that endorsed Sink in the primary, the Tampa Tribune, will undoubtedly continue to support Sink in the general election, having chastised Scott in the Republican primaries for relying on his record as CEO at Columbia/HCA to bolster his gubernatorial bid while asserting he had no knowledge his company was defrauding taxpayers.
Chances of winning the seat: The most recent poll by Rasmussen (Sept. 1) gives Sink a one-point advantage, according to Real Clear Politics, making the race too close to call. In polling prior to the Aug. 24 primary, Public Policy Polling (Aug. 21 and Aug. 22) showed Sink up by seven points, Quinnipiac (Aug. 11 to Aug. 16) by four points and Mason-Dixon (Aug. 9 to Aug. 11) gave Sink a 16-point lead over Scott in a prospective contest between them. Only two polls in the past month have shown Scott the likely victor: St. Petersburg Times (Aug. 6 to Aug. 10, +1) and Rasmussen (Aug. 25, +3).
Candidate: Rick Scott
Political experience: Scott has no noted political experience.
Professional experience: According to his website, Scott created the advocacy group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights in 2009. The group’s mission is a free-market health care industry.
Scott is the founder of Solantic Corporation, an urgent care provider in Florida known for menu-board pricing and a three-day, feel-better guarantee entitling patients to free treatment if they don’t feel better three days after their initial visit.
From 1987 to 1997, Scott was chief executive for Columbia Hospital Corporation, which he founded. Scott was forced out of CHC after the company was fined $1.7 billion for over-billing the federal government under the Medicare program, according to Who Runs Government.
Previously, Scott worked as an attorney in a private law firm.
Scott earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Missouri-Kansas City and a law degree from Southern Methodist University.
Key issues: Scott’s campaign has designated health care, the budget deficit and unemployment as critical issues facing Florida.
A health care executive with substantial personal wealth derived from his investments in the industry, Scott has made health care a centerpiece of his campaign. He favors free-market health care and advocates a state constitutional amendment prohibiting the implementation in Florida of recently passed federal health care reform legislation.
Florida is facing a $3 billion budget deficit, and Scott would address it by requiring state agencies to set goals and measure performance against those goals, eliminating ineffective or wasteful spending.
Scott’s jobs plan is to take seven steps he believes will create 700,000 new jobs in the next seven years. These steps include addressing government efficiency, enacting tax reforms, investing in education and focusing on job growth and retention. He advocates increased flexibility for economic development programs to encourage innovative approaches to attracting new business to Florida. He also proposes tying university research to the economic development process and investing in emerging technologies.
Endorsements: Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida TEA Party endorse Scott. Mississippi’s governor and de facto Republican party leader, Haley Barbour, has campaigned for him as well.
Chances of winning the seat: Polling averages point to Scott’s opponent, Sink, as the likely winner of the Florida gubernatorial race. However, the polling is close; the most recent Rasmussen poll (Sept. 1) gives Sink only a one-point lead, so the race is characterized as a toss-up. With Scott having outperformed Sink in eight of 13 major pre-primary polls, he could easily claim the lead in this close race.
To the extent that spending may influence the outcome of the Florida gubernatorial election, Scott is one of the wealthiest candidates running for office in the United States this election cycle. He has spent $50 million during the primary phase of his gubernatorial campaign, according to the Christian Science Monitor. His net worth is reported at $218 million.
Records on file with the Florida Division of Elections show that Scott has reported $37 million in campaign expenditures, while Sink has reported about 7 percent of that amount, $2.9 million.
Key Differences between Alex Sink and Rick Scott
Scott is running a campaign against President Obama and the federal government as much as against his opponent. He seeks to overturn federal health care and abortion laws, and he supports Arizona’s asserted right to enforce federal immigration law. Sink, by contrast, has been endorsed by Obama and has not campaigned on any state vs. federal issues.
Jobs: With Florida suffering one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, jobs are a critical issue in the Florida gubernatorial campaign. Both candidates’ jobs proposals rely on attracting new employers to Florida and making the economic climate hospitable to business. Both candidates also would strengthen ties between research and development and new product marketing.
Sink’s jobs proposal includes a component dealing with short-term needs, spurring the economic sectors that would produce jobs quickly.
Scott would use tax initiatives to attract businesses to Florida and favors loosening economic development program requirements to encourage businesses to invest in the state.
Health care: While Scott would seek to pass a state constitutional amendment to prevent the Federal Affordable Health Care Act from being implemented in Florida, Sink has expressed cautious support for the health care reform bill. When the Affordable Health Care Act was enacted, Sink called the reforms long overdue and better than nothing. She has not treated health care as a primary campaign issue. Scott advocates market-determined health care.
Education: Sink supports some costly but proven proposals to improve education, including the hiring of only teachers with bachelor’s degrees for pre-k programs, loan forgiveness to encourage high quality teachers and leadership training for school principals. Her proposal would directly tackle the drop-out problem with intervention strategies and programming.
Scott’s education initiatives follow conservative principles, promoting vouchers and charter schools, eliminating teacher tenure for new teachers and allowing home schooling.
Both candidates support teacher merit pay.
Budget deficit: Sink proposes a Budgeting in the Sunshine initiative, involving citizens in budgeting decisions and providing reports to explain the return on investment of taxpayer dollars. She would end the use of budgeting one-time dollars to pay multi-year expenses, a practice she equates to deficit-spending. She also opposes the raiding of dedicated trust funds to meet general budgetary needs.
Scott’s budgeting strategies involve setting goals for individual government agencies and evaluating the use of moneys expended, eliminating expenditures that are inefficient or wasteful.
Demographics: Florida is suffering the fourth highest seasonally adjusted unemployment among the 50 states, with 11.4 percent of its workforce out of work as of July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The mean household income in Florida was $67,373 in the 2006-2008 Census survey period, the most recent data available. Top occupations by number of employees include management and professional; sales and office; and service.
School enrollment for the Census survey period was 4.2 million from nursery through graduate school. 25.7 percent of the Florida population age 25 or older holds a bachelor’s or higher degree.
With respect to racial composition, 11 million of Florida’s 18.2 million residents describe themselves as white only in Census data, 2.7 million as black only, and 3.7 million Floridians of all races describe themselves as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census data.