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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Poll: Rick Scott threatens McCollum's lead

Rick Scott unexpectedly jumped in the Republican governor's race, quickly dropped $4.7 million of his own cash and bought enough advertising to get a bounce in the polls.

A once-unknown candidate, the former health care executive now trails longtime Florida Republican Bill McCollum by just 14 percentage points in the GOP primary, a Mason-Dixon poll shows.

McCollum, Florida's attorney general, remains the race's frontrunner. McCollum beats Scott and Lakeland Republican Sen. Paula Dockery by taking 38 percent of the vote if the Aug. 24 primary were held today. Before Scott filed to run, a March Mason-Dixon poll showed, McCollum won a far larger share of the Republican vote -- 64 percent. That's a 26 percentage-point loss for McCollum in the Republican primary.

"The biggest change in the race over the past six weeks has been the emergence of Scott,'' said Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker. "Backed by a large television advertising campaign to introduce him to voters, Scott has quickly gained the support of 24 percent of likely GOP primary voters and pulled to within just 14 points of McCollum. McCollum's 38-24 lead over Scott doesn't look impressive given his long tenure and high visibility as a Republican office holder.''

McCollum still bests state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, in a theoretical general election matchup. He would get 45 percent of the vote and Sink would garner 36 percent if the Nov. 2 general election were held today. But Sink's numbers have ticked slightly up, and McCollum's down, since the last Mason-Dixon poll.

Almost as soon as Scott entered the race, McCollum's campaign appeared to view him as a threat and sent out emails to some supporters noting that, under Scott's leadership, Columbia/HCA was accused of over-billing the government. The health care giant paid a record $1.7 billion settlement in the fraud case.

The $4.7 million Scott has spent in the race in one month slightly exceeds the amount McCollum has raised in a year. Sink has raised the most: almost $6.2 million.

Scott, who left HCA with $10 million in cash and $300 million in stock options, spent about $5 million of his own money opposing President Obama's health care plan, and he's on track to spend at least $25 million in the governor's race.

The frontrunning GOP campaigns react. Here's Scott's spokeswoman, Jen Coxe-Baker:

"The only poll that matters is on primary day.  However , it is clear  republican voters are fed up with the failed policies of career politicians and are responding to Rick Scotts message of  accountability and the need for a conservative outsider businessman who can turn FL around."

Here's Kristy Campbell, McCollum spokeswoman:

"We are extraordinarily pleased with Attorney General McCollum’s position in this race, where he maintains a significant edge in all polls and near double-digit lead over Alex sink.  He will spend the next five and a half months campaigning vigorously across the state, sharing his plan to create more than 500,000 new jobs for Florida residents in six years."

--Marc Caputo, Times/Herald staff writer

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 11:36am]

    

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