Republican Rick Scott gave his campaign another $11.6 million in the final 12 days, bringing his total personal spending to more than $73 million and making this far and away the most expensive governor's race in history.
The record-shattering investment put an exclamation point on Florida's topsy-turvy election cycle as candidates fanned out across the state Saturday for their final sprint before Tuesday.
"I believe in what I'm doing. I believe this is the right purpose. I think we need to start standing up and save the state and save the country," Scott said of his spending as he chartered a passenger Saab 340 plane to ferry him to four major media markets. "I've been blessed, and so I made a big commitment."
In a reminder of how the Naples businessman has transformed from the outsider candidate shunned as unfit for office to Mr. Establishment, Scott was joined at campaign stops by former Gov. Jeb Bush in Orlando and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, head of the Republican Governors Association, in Riverview.
Newly released campaign finance reports show that the Republican Governors Association pumped $6.5 million into the state GOP between late August and Oct. 28 — by far the single-biggest donor for a period where the party raised about $31.5 million. Other major donors included U.S. Sugar ($1.7 million), BlueCross Blue Shield ($910,000), paving giant Anderson-Columbia and its retired president ($655,000), and the Seminole Tribe ($550,000), which has gaming interests.
Donor after donor — including the Florida Chamber, U.S. Sugar and committees controlled by top legislators — had poured millions into attack ads painting Scott as a virtual crook in his Republican primary against Bill McCollum, but now is spending millions to help the state GOP attack Democrat Alex Sink's fitness for office.
Sink has proved to be the most successful fundraiser Florida Democrats have ever seen, though the $11.2 million she raised over the entire campaign is less than what Scott spent in the last 12 days. But with Sink at the top of the ticket, the state Democratic Party had its best fundraising quarter ever, matching the $31.5 million raised by the Republican Party.
The Democratic Governors Association was the largest contributor, steering $6.3 million to a political committee set up by Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, named MARK pac. Lawyers and labor unions are the next top donors, contributing $3.9 million and $1.7 million respectively, according to the reports.
MARK pac also raised $2.8 million from the Florida teachers union and its national partner, the National Education Association, and collected $450,000 from Emily's List, the organization that promotes liberal-leaning women candidates.
Sink spent Saturday afternoon greeting tailgating crowds at Florida A&M's homecoming game. Dressed in an orange golf shirt, Sink was given royalty status as she worked the crowd.
"I feel a big, big momentum for this week in early voting and also for Tuesday," she said. "People are very committed and excited."
State Sen. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat, said he believes Scott's money blitz is making people more cynical about politicians.
"Everybody believes you can buy it if you have enough money," he said. "It's turning people off. They know the election is not about them, it's about who is selling power and who is buying it."
Bush touted Scott at a rally at an Orlando airport hangar.
"There's a cloud on our state. There's a lot of pessimism in our state right now," Bush said. "I think we need a can-do leader that lifts the cloud, that inspires us to be better and to do better. … Rick Scott understands that because he has lived the American dream."
On Saturday, the Florida Times-Union published a story critical of Jennifer Carroll, Scott's running mate. The story said altered documents filed with Jacksonville City Hall in 2006 helped Carroll's consulting firm appear eligible for a city program that annually gives out tens of millions of dollars in city contracts to small businesses. When asked about specifics of the altered documents and her company's residency, Carroll issued a statement that did not address the specifics.
While the governor's race looks like a tossup, Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio acted every bit the confident front-runner Saturday campaigning in Lakeland, Tampa, Palm Harbor and Land O'Lakes. Rubio was relaxed, enjoying the company of his wife, Jeanette, and four children along with his mother, Oria, and cautioning supporters to take nothing for granted.
"I don't care how far we are up in the polls," he said at the Polk County Republican Party headquarters in Lakeland. "If our supporters do not vote, it will not matter."
Independent Gov. Charlie Crist is second in the polls, has no political party to help organize the campaign's final three days, and has failed to strike a deal for Democrat Kendrick Meek to exit the race. Yet the strain of the campaign wasn't evident on Crist as his "People's Express" bus tour cruised through North Florida.
Crist dived into the raucous crowds outside the Florida-Georgia football game in Jacksonville, where he found plenty of fans and hecklers, too. Teachers came to say they were supporting him because he vetoed Senate Bill 6, an education reform bill opposed by the teachers unions. And Republicans came close enough so they could shout "Traitor."
Former President Bill Clinton is set to return to Florida on Monday to campaign for Sink and Meek, who on Saturday recounted Crist's efforts to persuade him to drop out, including a series of phone calls from Crist, at least one before 5 a.m.
"Anyone else get a call?" Meek asked, turning to the crowd.
"There's a level of desperation there. I think it's wrong to try to paint me into a corner and say I'm the reason why he's not winning," he said, joking at one point that Rubio should drop out. "If anything came out of this whole experience, people know that I am with them in the final analysis."
Times/Herald staff writers Alex Leary, Beth Reinhard, Aaron Sharockman, Adam C. Smith and Michael C. Bender contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press.