TALLAHASSEE — It looks like the Beatles were wrong. I seems money, indeed, can buy you love. Or at least provide a significant downpayment.
At least that’s the message coming out of a recent Quinnipiac University poll that shows political outsiders Jeff Greene and Naples businessman Rick Scott leading their politically more experienced foes in races to become Florida’s next governor or face off against newly independent Charlie Crist and Republican Marco Rubio as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Both candidates, Democrat Greene and Republican Scott, have run largely self-financed campaigns, outspending their political rivals without having to endure the time-consuming “rubber chicken” circuit of fundraisers necessary to amass the millions it takes to run a viable campaign in a state of nearly 20 million people.
The anti-incumbent mood that appears to permeate the country cannot be discounted as a reason for both men’s success. The fact that they are facing relatively uncharismatic opponents with little statewide exposure is also a plus. A catastrophic oil spill and highly publicized independent run by Crist for the Senate have further sucked air from the room.
But facts are facts. The Quinnipiac poll show Scott holds a 43-32 percent lead over State Attorney General Bill McCollum for the Republican gubernatorial nomination with only three weeks to go before the Aug. 24 primary. Another 23 percent are undecided and 43 percent of those who do name a candidate say they may change their mind.
Likewise, businessman Jeff Greene has a 33-23 percent lead over U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in the race to become the Democratic standard-bearer in the U.S. Senate race. More than a third of voters remain undecided in that primary contest.
Pollsters say both men’s success “strongly correlates” with voter preference for new blood and political outsiders. Both Greene and Scott, who made their fortunes in the business world, have never held public office.
But to disregard the impact of massive television ad campaigns would be naïve and give too much credit to anti-incumbency. There is a reason, after all, why people buy (and pay more for) Coca-Cola or Bayer aspirin then some generic brand that tastes just like it or works the same.
After all, both men carry their own political baggage. Scott was CEO of Columbia HCA, which after he left pleaded guilty and paid a $1.7 billion fine for Medicaid fraud. Greene made hundreds of millions on the housing crash by purchasing investments that profited when buyers defaulted. Regardless of whether either man did anything wrong, the political opportunities for rivals is obvious, but have so far proven unsuccessful.
But in campaigns, as in gambling, money talks and something else walks. Scott has spent more than $23 million of his own money on a primary campaign, nearly five times his Republican rival. Billionaire Green has raised about $3,300 in contributions and written himself a $5.8 million check through June 30, the latest finance data available.
Such investments have paid handsome political dividends as both candidates now lead their respective races.
“If there was any doubts that enough money can make a political unknown into a frontrunner, the Democratic Senate primary and the Republican primary for governor should lay them to rest,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in a statement last week.
“Both Greene and Scott have come from nowhere to hold double-digit leads with just a little more than three weeks until the voting.”
Coupled with the fact that newly independent Charlie Crist leads both party-backed candidates, the 2010 election cycle will truly be one for the books regardless of who wins.
E-mail Michael Peltier at firstname.lastname@example.org.