ST. PETERSBURG — In her strongest language yet, Democrat Alex Sink blasted Republican rival Rick Scott as a mystery candidate who is trying to buy his way into the Governor's Office, "doesn't know zip about Florida" and whose proposals are "totally unrealistic."
"I just refuse to let Rick Scott hijack my state without a fight," Sink said Monday in a meeting with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.
Sink, 62, blamed Scott's lead in the latest polls on his campaign finance advantage. The former chief executive of Columbia/HCA Corp. has spent more than $52 million of his fortune, and Sink said he appears to be on track to spend $20 million more before Nov. 2.
"He's trying to buy the office," she said.
In a poll released Monday by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Scott leads Sink 46 percent to 42 percent. The business-backed group, which surveyed 800 likely voters, has endorsed Scott.
Scott, 57, has been tainted by allegations that he knew, or should have known, of the Columbia/HCA practices that drew a $1.7 billion federal fine for Medicare fraud. Scott was never charged and has said he believed the company should have hired more auditors to flag the problems.
Sink said she believes that voters who support Scott in the polls know about his history, but "maybe they don't care —- or are just so angry with the state of affairs we find ourselves in, they put their beliefs aside and think that it's not that important."
"I don't know what they're thinking," she added, "because it's stunning to me, frankly."
Scott campaign spokesman Brian Burgess downplayed Sink's criticism: "Voters don't cast their ballots for the candidate who spends the most money. They cast their ballots for the candidate they think is going to turn the economy around and create jobs — and Rick has made a very strong case that he's the guy with ideas and a willingness to shake up the system."
Sink noted that prior to running for governor, Scott had little civic involvement in Florida, and was little known even within Naples, where he moved seven years ago after retiring from his company.
"He's basically a guy who made $300 million leaving his company, so he came to Florida so he would not have to pay income tax," Sink said.
She accused Scott of giving the public managed information about his history, informed only by the 30-second television ads that have blanketed the airwaves.
"He hasn't made himself available in any forums, to (newspaper) editorial boards, or in any way where you could sit down with him and have a serious policy discussion," she said. "So I have to believe that the whole strategy is: throw a lot of money, do a lot of negatives, don't do any debates until the very end."
Sink and Scott are scheduled to debate for the first time Friday on Univision, the Miami-based, Spanish-language channel.
In her wide-ranging interview with the Times editorial board, Sink condemned Scott's proposals for insurance and utility regulation. She said his plan to loosen utility regulation was "alarming" and "totally out of touch with reality" that could lead to unfettered increases in customer bills.
She also called his plan to scale back state-run Citizens Property Insurance and allow rates to rise for its nearly 1.2 million customers unrealistic because there are properties in Florida "that are uninsurable by a private company," particularly those in the Keys or along some of the state's coasts.
If Citizens is eliminated, people's insurance rates will double, she said. "Nobody's budget can handle that," she said. "That's why his ideas are not based on reality and they're not good for people."
Sink has attempted to match Scott's presence on TV but has been unable to saturate the markets with as many ads, though she promised she will remain competitive with Scott. "I just hope voters will go to the polls and choose character and integrity over somebody who is spending $75 million and doesn't know zip about Florida, or policy or how to run government, just for his own ego, frankly," she said.
Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.