Republican Rick Scott, a former health-care executive, won the Florida governorship as he spent a record of more than $78 million to defeat Democrat Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer.
Scott collected 48.9 percent of the votes to Sink’s 47.7 percent, unofficial results from the state elections division show. Sink, 62, conceded at about 10:30 a.m. today in Tampa, calling on Scott to remember the “2.5 million Floridians who did not vote for him.” Earlier, with the election too close to call, she wanted “every ballot” counted.
Scott, 57, promised to unite Florida’s electorate after a race he won by less than 70,000 votes of the 5.3 million cast.
“I know I have some work to do to earn your support,” he said, referring to Sink’s backers in his victory speech in Fort Lauderdale. “Starting today, I work for every Floridian.”
Scott overcame questions about his ethics for $1.7 billion in Medicare-fraud payments paid by the hospital company he founded. He capitalized on voter dissatisfaction over President Barack Obama’s policies and record campaign outlays to become governor of the fourth-most-populous state in his first run for public office.
“He was successful casting her as an Obama clone at a time when Obama’s popularity across the state was not very high,” said Susan MacManus, who teaches politics at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Republicans easily won other state offices, including attorney general, chief financial officer and agricultural commissioner. The three officials, with the governor, make up the state’s cabinet.
Nationwide, Republicans gained at least 11 governorships previously held by Democrats. Two formerly Republican states elected Democratic governors.
Scott, who campaigned as a “conservative outsider,” had more trouble drumming up support than some other Republicans because of fraud allegations against his companies, said Joseph Uscinski, who teaches politics at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
“Scott had a background, and it made it easy for him to get attacked,” said Uscinski. “If you’re wrapped up with the health-care industry and accused of fraud, that’s not rubbing people the right way.”
Scott and his wife gave more than $73 million to his bid, according to the division of elections. His campaign spent $60.9 million as of Oct. 28, breaking the record of $19.9 million spent by incumbent Charlie Crist in 2006, according to division of elections data going back to 1996. Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, spent an additional $17.4 million.
Sink, a former Bank of America Corp. executive, and her committee, Hold Them Accountable, spent $10.5 million.
Scott will take over a state with an 11.9 percent unemployment rate in September, higher than the national average of 9.6 percent. It also had the country’s third-highest home-foreclosure rate, according to RealtyTrac.
He campaigned on a plan to create 700,000 jobs, cut property taxes by 19 percent and phase out the state’s business-income levy over seven years. Corporate tax comprised 8.3 percent of Florida’s general-revenue collections in the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the state’s monthly revenue report.
Scott also promised to reduce government spending. He says he would save $1 billion over seven years by lowering the state’s $2.3 billion annual prison operating budget, increase employee contributions to their pensions to save almost $1.4 billion and slash $1.8 billion from Florida’s health-care budget.
Scott, married with two daughters, was born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He started Columbia Healthcare Corp. in 1987 with two hospitals. In 1994, Columbia merged with HCA Inc. to become Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. It grew to 340 institutions and $20 billion in annual revenue, according to his campaign website.
In March 1997, the U.S. government announced an investigation of the company’s Medicare-billing practices and Scott left soon afterward. The company, renamed HCA Inc., eventually paid more than $1.7 billion related to the Medicare fraud claims.
In 2000, in a deposition in a civil suit against HCA involving a contract dispute, Scott invoked his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify against himself 75 times. Scott wasn’t charged with wrongdoing.
He went on to start Jacksonville, Florida-based Solantic Corp., another health-care company, where he served as chairman until January. Six days before he announced his candidacy for governor, Scott was deposed in a civil case against Solantic in which a doctor alleged his license had been used improperly. He has refused to release his deposition.
The lawsuits became fodder for Sink’s campaign advertising, which included a mock documentary entitled “Profits Before Patients: the Rick Scott Story,” and a television spot where a sheriff refers to Scott’s “shady past.”
Florida’s governorship was left open after Crist, elected as a Republican in 2006, decided not to run again and to vie instead for the U.S. Senate as an independent. Crist lost his Senate bid to Republican Marco Rubio 49 percent to 30 percent, according to the division of elections.