By Marc Caputo, Steve Bousquet and Nicholas Nehamas, Miami Herald (MCT)
BONITA SPRINGS Fla. — Fueled with $100 million and a strong economy, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appeared to overcome his own political liabilities and a fierce challenge from Democrat Charlie Crist on Tuesday to win a second term that solidified Republican control of the state.
Once one of the least-popular governors in the country, Scott owed his rise-from-the-ashes victory to several factors: a massive fund-raising advantage, the power of incumbency, an effective Republican get-out-the-vote effort and Crist’s failure to get Democrat-rich South Florida to turn out the way it does in presidential elections.
Polls showed the race would be tight, and it was. Scott was clinging to a 1 percentage point lead over Crist as of 10:20 p.m. EST, but with most counties reporting, the Democrat had little chance of winning.
Scott’s victory unfolded amid an improving economy that formed his argument for a second term, using the slogan “Let’s Keep Working” and citing the number of new jobs and the drop in the state unemployment rate.
Scott, who turns 62 next month, becomes only the second Republican governor in state history, along with Jeb Bush, to win back-to-back terms. In one respect, he’ll be even more powerful than Bush because Republicans on Tuesday won supermajority control of the Florida House. The GOP also controls the state Senate.
The win by Scott was no small feat. Not only were his poll numbers poor, but his awkward, camera-shy performance often made him the butt of jokes by late-night TV comics.
But Scott had the last laugh Tuesday. The day before, he predicted a victory but only got the hour of his win wrong.
“We’re going to announce at 8 o’clock that we kicked Charlie’s rear,” Scott told retirees at The Villages. “And he deserves it.”
The two candidates had little love for each other.
Crist described Scott as a “fraud” due to the record Medicare fraud fine paid by Scott’s former hospital company.
But Scott deployed a devastatingly effective scorched-earth strategy of spending tens of millions on TV ads that called Crist a “slick politician” and “lousy governor” that damaged the nice-guy image he spent decades cultivating.
Scott spent at least $70 million on ads, many of them negative.
By the end of the campaign, Crist was less-liked than Scott.
And when Scott and the GOP weren’t attacking Crist’s integrity on TV, they were reminding viewers of his unwavering allegiance to Barack Obama at a time when the president’s favorability ratings in Florida are abysmal.
First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden stumped for Crist, but Obama never made an appearance and only recorded a last-minute radio spot for Crist.
Wave after wave of Republican stars came to Florida to bolster Scott’s political fortunes. They included Bush, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association that plowed $18 million into Scott’s campaign.
Their continued presence wasn’t just to help Scott. It’s a priority of national Republicans to preserve their party’s control of the governor’s mansion entering the 2016 presidential campaign when Florida will again be a key battleground.
Photo: New Jersey governor Chris Christie, left, listens to remarks made by Gov. Rick Scott as Ann Scott, right, holds their gransdon Sebastian, during a campaign stop in Ormond Beach, Fla., Monday, Oct. 27, 2014. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)