Billionaire Rick Scott rocked Florida’s political establishment, overcoming state Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary for governor, as another GOP insider was ousted by an insurgent challenger for a spot on the November ballot.
Mr. Scott, a health care executive who only entered the race in the spring, held a small but enduring lead throughout the night, setting up a general election showdown with Democratic candidate Alex Sink, the state’s chief financial officer.
In the Sunshine State’s other high-profile race, Rep. Kendrick B. Meek easily overcame another billionaire candidate, Jeff Greene, to win the Democratic primary for the state’s open Senate seat. The congressman now faces an intriguing battle with Republican-turned-independent Gov. Charlie Crist and rising Republican star Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the state House, in the Nov. 2 general election.
Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma and Vermont also held primary or runoff elections Tuesday.
In Arizona, Sen. John McCain, as expected, easily defeated former Rep. J.D. Hayworth in the state’s Republican Senate primary, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, was trying to fend off Sarah Palin-endorsed businessman Joe Miller, a political newcomer, to win her party’s nomination for a third term.
As of Wednesday morning, with 98 percent of Election Day precincts counted, Mrs. Murkowski trailed Mr. Miller by 1,960 votes out of more than 91,000 counted. The race was too close to call, with as many as 16,000 absentee votes and an undetermined number of provisional or questioned ballots remaining to be counted starting on Aug. 31.
With more than 92 percent of the Florida votes counted on a rainy primary day, Mr. Scott led Mr. McCollum 47 percent to 43 percent put of more than 1 million votes cast. A third Republican candidate, Mike McCalister, had 10.2 percent of the vote and may have had a key role in tipping the race.
The Scott-McCollum clash got particularly testy in recent weeks, with Floridians subjected to a barrage of TV attack ads in recent weeks.
Mr. Scott had enjoyed a double-digit lead over Mr. McCollum in many polls taken this summer. Mr. Scott’s poll numbers began to slip as the summer wore on, but he was able to hang on to victory.
Mr. Scott, who has spent more than $50 million of his own money on his campaign, made his fortune building up the Columbia/HCA hospitals chain. He was ousted as head of the group in 1997 in the midst of a major fraud scandal involving Medicaid and Medicare payments.
Four years later, the company reached a plea agreement with the U.S. government that eventually led to it paying more than $1.7 billion in fines, back payments and lawsuit settlements.
Mr. McCollum, who served in Congress before being elected to statewide office, has hammered Mr. Scott over his business dealings over Solantic, a chain of health care clinics Mr. Scott co-founded that the state is investigating for possible overbilling. Mr. Scott fired back, accusing Mr. McCollum of abusing his position as attorney general by using state investigators to harass the company and its employees.
Mr. Scott has touted his business experience, saying that he, unlike Mr. McCollum, knows how to create jobs. He attacked his opponent further as a political insider who doesn’t have the best interests of Floridians at heart.
Ms. Sink, Florida’s chief financial officer, easily won the Democratic primary for governor with only nominal competition.
In Florida’s Senate race, Mr. Meek, who had double-digit poll leads over Mr. Greene in recent weeks, was ahead 56.5 percent to 31.8 percent with about 90 percent of precincts counted. Two other Democratic primary candidates captured most of the rest of the vote. The Associated Press by mid-evening called the election for Mr. Meek, who succeeded his mother in the congressional seat he now holds.