A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that Bill McCollum has opened up a 9-percentage-point lead over Rick Scott in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Florida.
In the poll results released Wednesday, Attorney General McCollum leads businessman Scott by a margin of 44 percent to 35 percent among likely primary voters, with 19 percent undecided. That reverses a Quinnipiac poll released on July 29 that had Scott leading by 11 points, 43 to 32 percent.
The new Quinnipiac survey is the fourth recent poll that shows McCollum pulling ahead of Scott as the Aug. 24 primary approaches. A Mason-Dixon poll last week showed that McCollum, who had trailed in an earlier poll, had a 12-point lead over Scott. Polls by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Medical Association had McCollum ahead by 4 points.
“With help from big names like former Gov. Jeb Bush and big donations from GOP heavy hitters, McCollum has made GOP voters rethink their views about Scott and his record as a businessman,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
“Although this is clearly the year of the outsider, the reverse of that may be in the offing in Florida. But nothing is for certain and the large number of undecideds and voters whose commitment to their candidate is soft makes anything possible.”
In addition to the 19 percent who are undecided, 32 percent of respondents in the Quinnipiac Poll who did name a candidate said they could change their mind.
The survey also found that Scott’s favorable rating, which stood at 39 percent on July 29, has dropped to 34 percent, while his unfavorable rating has risen from 26 percent to 33 percent.
Voters evidently are becoming increasing concerned about Scott’s 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, Solantic Urgent Care.
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 multi-state probe that led to the firm’s 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 that 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 instead of a doctor saw a patient.
Scott gave a videotaped deposition in regard to one of the lawsuits six days before announcing his candidacy for governor, and he has rebuffed calls for the release of the deposition, saying, “It’s a private matter.”
Ten prominent Florida lawmakers have issued a call for Scott to release the deposition and other documents or withdraw from the race for the good of the Republican Party.
Others also are concerned about party image.
“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 poll.
“Scott’s ability to compete for the remaining undecided vote has grown extremely difficult.”
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