On a Saturday in late August 2010, a few reporters were on a Panhandle bus tour with Bill McCollum, the attorney general and Republican candidate for governor, who must have figured he had struck gold in opposition research.
McCollum was having trouble fending off Rick Scott's outsider message and millions of dollars in TV ads as part of their bitter primary fight.
On that day in Gulf Breeze, the McCollum campaign passed out transcripts of a deposition Scott gave in 2000, three years after he had left the Columbia/HCA hospital chain, in which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times.
Scott was being questioned in a contract dispute, not about fraud at Columbia/HCA that forced the company he built to pay record fines of $1.7 billion. Scott was not personally implicated in any wrongdoing.
Scott said the lawyers were on a "fishing expedition," but his refusal to answer the most innocuous questions fit the McCollum campaign narrative like a glove: Scott is secretive, he's not forthcoming and he can't be trusted.
A few days later, Scott easily defeated McCollum in the GOP primary, and then Democrat Alex Sink used the Fifth Amendment in TV ads, and Scott beat her, too, though narrowly.
Case closed? Hardly.
The Florida Democratic Party served notice Monday that it will make the Fifth Amendment deposition part of its strategy to undermine what Democrats say is Gov. Scott's attempt to reinvent himself.
A new Web ad features a woman's voice highlighting Scott pleading the Fifth 75 times as she says: "Taxpayers got cheated while he walked away with millions. … We just can't trust Rick Scott."
"He's basically trying to change the narrative and say he's the one the middle class can trust, and that's simply not true," said Scott Arceneaux, the state party executive director. "This ad is our first salvo at reminding people who Rick Scott really is."
As Arceneaux noted, Scott won in 2010 partly because it was a bad year for Democrats, generally. With voters known for having short memories, he said the story of Scott's past has to be retold.
The Republican Party, which has repeatedly cited Democrat Charlie Crist's shifting positions as proof of his untrustworthiness, answered the Democrats' ad with one showing Crist defending decisions to raise college tuition and to support Obamacare as "the right thing to do."
The Democrats' use of old dirt in a new campaign might work and it might not. Because Democrats have a lot less money to spend, the ad is available on the Web and social media to start.
Florida had 11.8 million voters in April, about half a million more than in the 2010 election that Scott won by 61,550 votes. In addition, voters with no party affiliation are the fastest-growing segment of the electorate and account for nearly one of every four voters.
This means that the electorate that will choose the next governor is not the same. The message might be familiar, but the audience is different.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.