Rick Scott's debut among the Fla GOP faithful
TAMPA — Rick Scott was mingling with Florida's most devoted Republicans when one man volunteered that he was from Manatee County.
"I tried to buy Manatee Memorial Hospital," Scott offered cheerfully, in the way others might make note of having a cousin from the area.
The debut of the multimillionaire former hospital executive at a Florida GOP gathering in Tampa this weekend drew a mix of curiosity and cold shoulders as polls show him leading Republican Bill McCollum in the governor's race. The political rookie, who has already spent $16 million on TV ads, could end the career of McCollum, the state attorney general and a party stalwart who has been attending GOP meetings since 1976.
"These are tumultuous times, and every race is up for grabs," said Allison DeFoor, a North Florida state committeeman. "People are willing to look at all the options on the table."
Saturday's meeting of the state Republican executive board was the first since the arrest of former chairman Jim Greer on fraud and money-laundering charges. Even as Republicans touted the strength of their slate in the busiest election cycle in decades, activists speculated about the ongoing criminal investigations connected to assorted party leaders and moneyraisers.
"The worst of it in my opinion is out," said state Sen. John Thrasher, who replaced Greer in February, and on Saturday presided over a closed-door meeting to discuss an exhaustive party audit expected to be complete by late July.
"As far as any further criminal activity or anything like that, I don't sense there is any. Having said that, I don't know if there are IRS issues," he said, referring to cases where top legislators and party staffers spent heavily on state GOP credit cards.