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Rick Scott and Jeff Greene may be the political establishment's nightmare

What if?

What if Rick Scott and Jeff Greene both win on Tuesday?

That would be the most shocking result of the wildest Florida primary campaign in memory. It would leave both political parties in shambles and turn Florida into a national symbol of voter anger.

Remember, self-funded political party crashers like Scott and Greene are not supposed to win — even in a year when voters seem disgusted with tired, play-it-safe, establishment politicians.

The party nominating process is tilted in favor of career pols like Bill McCollum and Kendrick Meek, who have access to party activists and special interest money and built-in name ID, all the result of decades of doing what they do best: holding public office.

Greene, like Scott, is trying to win by bucking the establishment. His mail pieces, like Scott's, ridicule "career politicians and the special interests who pull their strings."

Greene, like Scott, has big blemishes in his business resume, not to mention bizarre associations (like boxer Mike Tyson serving as best man at his wedding). And Greene, by last count, had spent $23 million on his campaign — pocket change compared to Scott.

If Scott wins the Republican nomination for governor, it will deliver a massive blow to the moneyed culture that controls Tallahassee. The Capitol crowd has an abiding fear of the unknown.

Special interests like predictability and reliability, and Rick Scott is neither predictable nor reliable.

If McCollum wins, it will produce an almost audible sigh of relief from the traditional interests that are bankrolling McCollum's ad campaign to a large extent and casting Scott as a fraud who can't be trusted.

A McCollum win could tell us that in the minds of GOP voters, especially the older voters who will dominate this election, "career politician" isn't the epithet that Scott makes it out to be.

The messages both men are sending out are so startlingly different that whoever wins faces the very difficult job of unifying a party being yanked in two different directions.

The primaries for governor and U.S. Senate are not just a fight over ideas and biographies. They also are contests between the "air war" superiority of Scott and Greene vs. the traditional grass roots "ground game" of McCollum and Meek.

Win or lose, Scott and McCollum have reshaped the political landscape in 2010, and — for better and worse — people will be talking about this race for a long time to come.

Shamefully, the two men never debated on live TV statewide, a glaring deficiency more Scott's fault than McCollum's. But they have been fixtures on TV.

By the time the polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the two candidates and their like-minded shadow committees will have spent a combined $60 million, most of it on scorched-earth 30-second attack ads.

TV ads work or they wouldn't be a staple of modern campaigns. By now, a lot of voters should have a lot of doubts about Scott and McCollum — complicating both men's chances of victory in November.

There's anecdotal evidence that Scott's saturation television ad strategy is turning off voters.

In Lake City, 80-year-old Quentin Boyle, a retired Quaker Oats employee, said this about Scott and McCollum: "I think they both would be a lot better off if they hadn't been blasting each other with negative stuff. Although, when you look into Rick Scott a little bit, you find out he's got a little baggage he's carrying around with him.

Then Boyle added: "My issue with McCollum is, he's been in there for years and years and years."

McCollum is highly experienced, but looks all-too-familiar and uninspiring. Scott has the fresh face, but it's tarnished by Medicare fraud and a haughtiness displayed by his refusal to debate, visit editorial boards or release a deposition in a civil case.

Boring Bill and Kendrick vs. Slick Rick and Jeff. It's up to you.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Rick Scott and Jeff Greene may be the political establishment's nightmare 08/20/10 [Last modified: Saturday, August 21, 2010 12:25am]

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