August 24, 2010
Meek Wins Democratic Primary in Florida
By DAMIEN CAVE
MIAMI — Kendrick Meek, 43, a congressman from Miami, handily beat Jeff Greene, a 55-year-old Florida real estate mogul, for the Democratic nomination to the United States Senate, setting the stage for a general election battle that will have former Gov. Charlie Crist running as an independent.
Mr. Meek won the primary after Mr. Greene saw his initial surge in the campaign tripped up by questions about whether his yacht had docked in Cuba and whether it was or was not a party boat for friends like Mike Tyson.
Mr. Meek will take on Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate, and Mr. Crist, who abandoned the Republican Party in April after it became clear that he was likely to lose the party's primary.
Republicans - though denied a primary - are also choosing their candidates for governor, with Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer, emerging as the candidate to beat. The Republican contest appeared to be a toss-up between Bill McCollum, 66, the state attorney general, and Rick Scott, 57, a former health care executive who has spent $38 million saturating the airwaves.
In addition to big spending, both big races — the Democratic Senate contest and the Republican battle for governor — were characterized by caustic attacks. While Mr. Greene and Mr. Meek tangled over Mr. Greene’s lifestyle, and whether Mr. Meek is beholden to special interests — with Mr. Greene spending $23 million as of last week — the governor’s race cost even more, in money and public image.
Recent polls have shown that both Mr. Scott’s and Mr. McCollum’s unfavorable ratings have increased, to Democrats’ delight.
“There are still 25 to 30 percent of voters who are undecided,” said Steven Schale, a Democratic strategist who ran the Obama campaign in Florida two years ago. “They’re not undecided because they can’t decide which one they like the best.”
Mr. Scott, a smiling figure on television who rarely answers reporters’ questions, repeatedly accused Mr. McCollum of lying, about tax or fee increases that he supported, and about his stance on tough immigration enforcement. In one television spot, his campaign advised voters to toss out Mr. McCollum like a dirty diaper. He, in turn, has been attacked by Mr. McCollum and his allies for his role as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, a hospital chain that paid $1.7 billion in fines for fraudulently billing the federal government. Mr. Scott also came under fire for refusing to release a deposition he gave days before he entered the governor’s race in a lawsuit against Solantic, a chain of medical clinics that he founded.
Even in the waning hours of the campaign on Tuesday, the assault continued. In Naples after lunch, Mr. Scott appeared at a church to vote, and was greeted not just by a small band of supporters, but also by a critic in a smock and surgical mask who would only identify himself as “Doctor Dave.”
The “doctor,” who later conceded that he was not a medical professional, blasted refrains of “Rick Scott, release the deposition, your character is in question” over a bullhorn. He said he was not paid, but such tactics have become common in recent weeks at Mr. Scott’s events, suggesting some Republican establishment orchestration. Indeed, a group linked to Mr. McCollum sent a car to Scott events over the last week with the words “Release the Deposition” written on its side.
Some Republicans at the polls Tuesday said they did not vote for Mr. Scott because his past would continue to come up – possibly handing a victory to the Democrat, Ms. Sink, who has been gaining momentum.
“I certainly think he would do good,” said Paul Pavilack, 78, an anesthesiologist in Sunny Isles Beach, who once worked in Mr. Scott’s hospital chain. “But he’s not electable.”
The other races to be decided Tuesday offered fewer fireworks. In Arizona, where turnout may have been surpressed by temperatures in the triple digits, polls showed Senator John McCain with a comfortable lead over his challenger J. D. Hayworth, a conservative former radio talk show host and six-term congressman who offered a spirited challenge that seemed to fizzle out. But Mr. McCain was forced to defend his right flank on immigration to the point that some former allies said they didn’t recognize his stance any longer.
In Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski also faced an insurgent candidate, the Tea Party favorite, Joe Miller, but after outspending him significantly she appeared to have a comfortable lead heading into the primary.
In Vermont, Senator Patrick J. Leahy is facing another newcomer, Daniel Freilich, a physician and Navy veteran, while in Oklahoma, the most-watched contest is a Republican runoff for the Fifth District Congressional seat, in which James Lankford, a youth camp director and political newcomer, is running against Representative Kevin Calvey.
Catharine Skipp contributed reporting from Miami, and Gary Fineout from Naples, Fla.