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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010 7 years ago

Our Observation

Staff opinion

Florida and California have earned frequent comparisons for enviable reasons. They're both frequently known as the Sunshine State, though for one that's a misnomer. Florida never had a gold rush, though like California, the rail system meant everything for the expansion of the state. In Florida, especially in the middle, some might call the 1971 grand opening of Walt Disney World as the state's big boom.

Incidentally, California beat us to the punch, opening Disneyland in 1955.

But the Nov. 2 elections showed we still have much that separates us from our sunny compatriot from the left coast. On that day, arguably the two highest-profile gubernatorial elections ended in two wildly different outcomes.

In California, a strikingly blue state standing out like a sore thumb during a "wave election" where Democrat incumbents were falling across the country, Democrat Jerry Brown, the former California governor who hadn't held that post for three decades, won.

And he did it against Republican Meg Whitman's campaign that had out-spent him 6-to-1. Whitman, the billionaire former CEO of eBay, had just spent $142 million of her own money and lost.

Meanwhile Florida, jokingly referred to as being south of the south due to its slightly more progressive culture and middle-ground political leanings, turned from purple to beet-red overnight. Multi-millionaire Republican Rick Scott, who had spent $78 million of his own money on a gubernatorial campaign, won.

His opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, spent less, and lost narrowly, thanks in part to a blitz of ads paid for by the Scott campaign accusing her of corruption and mishandling the state's pension fund. Both of those were quickly disproven by organizations such as PolitiFact, but the damage was already done thanks to that expensive ad campaign.

Whitman's story worked a little differently. Her personal campaign threw more than $100 million at an ad campaign that may have backfired due to its price alone.

Though she was in a favorable election cycle for Republican candidates, an overwhelmingly Democratic voting bloc made her battle an uphill one. So the money kept flowing from Whitman's bank account and into ads saturating the state.

But something strange happened on Election Day: For the first time in the Internet age, a gubernatorial candidate may have found that there is such a thing as spending too much on a campaign, even if it's your own money. Voters overwhelmingly rejected her, many citing that her perceived self-distancing from the people was a big factor.

Whether Whitman's money was actually hers hasn't been the subject of much debate. The source of Scott's campaign money is more of a gray area.

Scott is the former CEO of a major health care company that pled guilty to defrauding the Medicare system and was fined $1.7 billion.

Though he never admitted to knowing what his company was doing while he was CEO for 10 years, he profited handsomely, reaping $315 million in the wake of the biggest Medicare fraud fine in history. Where those millions ended up may very well have been the campaign ads touting Scott as a new kind of politician.

Political pundits said that Florida's voters elected Scott to "send a message" to politicians. The message is loud and clear: "We can be bought, even if we're footing the bill."

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