From: Nathan Daschle, Executive Director, Democratic Governors Association
To: Political reporters, interested parties
RE: Is Bill McCollum the next victim of the GOP civil war?
Two developments this weekend should keep perennial GOP candidate Bill McCollum up at night.
First – after Utah Senator Bob Bennett’s defeat, an emboldened Tea Party is looking for even more establishment candidates to take down. Republicans like longtime strategist Ed Rogers admit that Bennett’s loss is “proof that the Tea Party movement is a huge presence in the GOP organization.”
Second – polling out this weekend suggests the Tea Partiers’ next victory could be over Florida Attorney General McCollum, an establishment darling who just shed 26 points in his primary against a Tea Party candidate.
The Tea Partiers have found their ideal candidate – one who speaks their language and is putting in the resources to back it up. Just a few weeks ago, former health care executive Rick Scott joined the race and has since run hard to the right. Scott has already poured nearly $5 million in ads on TV and launched his first radio spot – a self-titled “Florida Conservative Commentary” to discuss his close relationship with the Tea Party. In the weeks since he announced his candidacy, Scott has risen from a virtual unknown to capturing 24 percent of the vote.
“In a year when voters are fed up with incumbents, Scott is campaigning as a tea party outsider who knows business,” wrote Adam Smith in the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday.
McCollum has made his own failed plays to win the Tea Party seal of approval. Most notably, he filed a lawsuit against federal health care legislation that has been alternatively derided as a waste of taxpayer dollars and a transparent attempt to grab headlines. His gambit for the Tea Partiers backfired badly in polling taken weeks after he announced he was heading up the lawsuit.
After this vicious fight over the Tea Party’s affections, whoever eventually wins just saw his prospects for the general election grow dimmer. The Tea Party’s blessing will box the victorious Republican into a very difficult space. To win the primary, the contenders are forced to take rigid hard-right positions that are out of step with mainstream Florida voters. When general election season begins, the nominee will be forced to hew closely to their ultra-conservative views to sustain the enthusiasm – or at least ward off the alienation of – the fickle Tea Partiers.
This dynamic only plays well for Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who has an uncontested primary. I spent the past day in Florida with Alex and her campaign. While Republicans are fighting over who gets to be the most conservative, she’s connecting with voters on a basic level – jobs and her vision for where to take the state in 2014.