Key advisers in Florida governor's race play vital roles

Curt Anderson
Curt Anderson
Published May 24, 2014

Key advisers for Gov. Rick Scott

Curt Anderson: An architect of Scott's much-maligned but successful TV ad strategy, Anderson is a partner in OnMessage Inc., a media firm that is trying to soften Scott's image to attract turned-off voters. A Maryland resident, Anderson has worked for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and presidential candidate Herman Cain. The 52-year-old also has performed damage control for Scott. When former top fundraiser Mike Fernandez's leaked emails exposed his over-the-top criticism of Scott's campaign, including his TV ads, Anderson dissed Fernandez as a "renegade donor" in a Politico interview.

Tony Fabrizio: After playing a vital behind-the-scenes role as pollster and strategist in Scott's from-out-of-nowhere 2010 victory, Fabrizio is advising Scott again, but this time in a long-view strategic role following reported clashes with Scott's chief of staff, Adam Hollingsworth. A South Florida pollster with a national profile, Fabrizio, 54, has said he looks forward to helping Scott "shock" the political world again by defeating Charlie Crist. His polling firm has received $1.1 million from Scott's political committee since 2010.

Adam Hollingsworth: Scott's 45-year-old chief of staff is a bridge between Scott's governing and campaigning worlds, but has no formal campaign role. He has strong political ties to his native Jacksonville and acts as the state's chief operating officer, guiding all aspects of Scott's administration. He helped orchestrate Jennifer Carroll's ouster as lieutenant governor, survived an embarrassing resume-padding episode and is said to have helped orchestrate the cancellation of a speech by Crist to the Florida Council of 100. Like any chief of staff, he has many critics, but he has been around longer than either of his predecessors.

Meredith O'Rourke: An effective fundraiser with a wide network of connections to donors, she's the unseen and well-paid mastermind of Let's Get to Work, Scott's political committee and underpinning of his candidacy. A 42-year-old Palm Beach County native, O'Rourke raised $19 million for Crist's 2006 campaign as a Republican, and she will raise far more than that for Scott in 2014. Her consulting firm, Forward Strategies, has already been paid $1.7 million by Let's Get to Work, and she has earned another $736,000 from the Republican Party of Florida.

Melissa Sellers: A University of Texas journalism graduate, she made politics her career after a 2003 internship in George W. Bush's White House. She was a press aide to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and worked in the press office at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa when Scott hired her to sharpen his messaging. She soon had Scott personally showing up at companies to tout job-creation numbers. Fiercely loyal to Scott, she has lived in Florida less than two years and, at 31, is one of the youngest people to manage a campaign for governor in Florida.

Key advisers for former Gov. Charlie Crist

Kevin Cate: With an aw-shucks demeanor and a hearty disdain for Gov. Rick Scott's agenda, this 30-year-old media adviser is a multimedia whiz promoting a candidate still mastering email. Cate owns a Tallahassee public relations firm advising nonprofits and corporate clients. He was a spokesman for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign in Florida and press secretary to Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. He's relentless about tipping reporters to what he sees as the latest boneheaded move by Scott or Republicans. He learned his way around the media at an early age: His father is Keith Cate, the longtime Tampa TV news anchor.

Dan Gelber: A former state senator and House minority leader from Miami Beach, Gelber, 53, was the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2012 and lost to Pam Bondi. That experience taught him the perils of running statewide and made him appreciate all the more Crist's most valuable political assets: likability and universal name recognition. A lawyer who once worked as counsel to a U.S. Senate committee, Gelber is viewed as the brains of the Crist outfit and a possible running mate. As a legislator, his debating skills were respected by Republicans, and he and Crist have a history: Gelber persuaded Crist to issue the order extending early voting in 2008 to relieve long lines at the polls.

Omar Khan: The gravelly voice that makes him sound like a Scorsese film character betrays his New York roots, but this University of South Florida graduate and two-time Obama campaign hand knows the mechanics of campaigning in Florida better than most longtime state Democrats. Khan, 32, also has a gut-feel for Florida's political sensibilities and a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humor.

David Rancourt: He's a red Republican inside Crist's blue tent. Rancourt, 48, was a Republican Party operative and trusted adviser to Gov. Jeb Bush who helped grow Southern Strategy Group into one of the strongest lobbying firms in the Southeast. A lifelong Republican who could not penetrate the Scott inner circle and a long-time friend of Crist's, Rancourt wrote a $50,000 check to help get Crist's campaign off the ground. If Crist wins, Rancourt would become one of Tallahassee's most sought-after lobbyists.

Steve Schale: A senior consultant to Crist, he already was a rising star among political consultants in 2008 when he managed the Florida campaign victory that helped put Obama in the White House. With his skills in high demand, Schale surprisingly did not move to D.C., but became a lobbyist for AT&T, Disney and hospitals. Schale, 39, said awful things about Crist when he was a Republican that Crist is willing to overlook because Schale knows how to get Democrats elected in Florida. He also can do the math in statewide races and saw early on that Crist's 2010 independent U.S. Senate candidacy wasn't going to succeed.