Bill McCollum has opened a 12 percentage-point lead over Rick Scott in his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor in Florida, according to a new poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The poll of likely Republican primary voters shows McCollum with 45 percent of the vote, Scott with 33 percent, and roughly 20 percent undecided.
Attorney General McCollum has a comfortable lead over businessman Scott among moderates, 48 percent to 27 percent, as well as conservatives — 43 percent to 36 percent, according to the polling firm, McLaughlin & Associates. He also has a huge lead over Scott among Hispanic voters, 52 percent to 21 percent.
A Mason-Dixon poll released last week showed McCollum leading Scott by four percentage points, as did a survey for the Florida Medical Association.
McCollum’s comeback has amazed political observers and McCollum critics and supporters alike. Some earlier surveys had him trailing Scott by double digits, and as recently as Aug. 4, a Mason-Dixon poll showed Scott leading McCollum by 37 percent to 31 percent.
Voters evidently are becoming increasing concerned about Scott’s highly questionable business dealings and his refusal to release a deposition he gave in regard to a lawsuit alleging fraudulent practices at a healthcare company he now heads.
The new allegations likely remind voters of fraudulent practices uncovered at Scott’s former company, Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest hospital chain.
In 1997, Scott was forced to resign as CEO of the firm while it was being investigated for massive Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The FBI launched a multistate probe that led to the firm pleading guilty to criminal charges of overbilling the government.
It remains the largest Medicare fraud case in U.S. history, and ended with Columbia/HCA paying a record $1.7 billion in fines, penalties and damages.
Scott, who walked away from the company with $310 million, accepted responsibility for what occurred at Columbia and said he had learned “hard lessons” from the case.
But Scott is once again under pressure, this time for his role at Solantic — a chain of about 30 walk-in Florida clinics he co-founded after leaving Columbia/HCA — as the company, ironically, faces an allegation of billing irregularities involving Medicare.
Two physicians who worked for Solantic filed lawsuits claiming the company repeatedly used their names and medical license information without their permission. Both suits have been settled.
One suit, by Dr. Randy Prokes, also claimed that Solantic improperly billed Medicare when a nurse practitioner rather than a doctor saw a patient.
Scott gave a videotaped deposition regarding one of the lawsuits six days before announcing his candidacy for governor, but he has rebuffed calls for the release of the deposition, saying, “It’s a private matter.”
Perhaps not to the voters.
“Scott’s negatives have been steadily growing over the past several weeks, and McCollum now has better image ratings among Republican primary voters than Scott does,” said a statement from the Tarrance Group, which conducted the Florida Medical Association’s poll.
“Scott’s ability to compete for the remaining undecided vote has grown extremely difficult," Tarrance said.
Scott's campaign seems undeterred, and probably will spend more than $50 million of his own money in an effort to snag a victory.
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