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Scott holds on to early lead over Sink with 85 percent of precincts counted

By Staff | Nov 3, 2010

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott was clinging to a slim lead Tuesday as Democrat Alex Sink pinned her hopes on a strong turnout for her in South Florida counties that were still counting.

With 85 percent of the expected vote counted, Scott had 50 percent, while Sink had 47 percent.

Through months of attack ads and three debates, polls released in the campaign’s final days showed the bitter race was still too close to call.

The candidates are both former CEOs who ran on the claim that they are the best person to turn around Florida’s dismal economy and create new jobs.

After several days of frenzied homestretch campaigning, they cast their ballots Tuesday morning in their hometowns — Scott in Naples and Sink in rural Thonotosassa outside Tampa.

Giddy supporters were already addressing Scott as governor as he did some last-minute campaigning Monday. In Jacksonville, tea party leader and Scott supporter Billie Tucker wore red, white and blue cowboy boots adorned with “USA” and stars.

“We’re going to kick their butts out tonight,” she said.

At a Baptist church in Thonotosassa, Sink strode out to meet reporters after voting, flanked by her husband, Bill McBride, and their son Bert.

“It’s your next governor!” said McBride, who ran unsuccessfully for governor against Jeb Bush in 2002.

Sink, Florida’s elected chief financial officer, predicted that votes from independents and crossover Republicans in more rural north Florida would give her the edge over Scott.

One of those crossover votes for Sink came from Erik Lindquist, 31, an Orlando Republican who said he was “bothered” by a highly publicized Medicare fraud scandal at Scott’s former hospital company.

“I just didn’t have that warm, fuzzy feeling for Rick Scott,” Lindquist said. “I didn’t find him trustworthy.”

But the black spot on Scott’s business record didn’t seem to bother others, including Rus Ives, 57, and his wife, Pattie, 47, who voted for him in Palm Beach County.

“I think he’ll get things going in the state. I hope,” said Rus Ives, a retired self-employed businessman. “You hear allegations about all of them, don’t you? You’ve got to go with what you feel.”

Scott, 57, is a multimillionaire who unexpectedly jumped into the Republican primary race in April. With an antiestablishment message and tea party backing, the political newcomer proceeded to spend about $73 million of his family’s money beating Attorney General Bill McCollum for the GOP nomination and then taking on Sink.

After the August primary, he quickly picked up the backing of state GOP leaders, many of whom had worked to defeat him, and began to paint Sink as a “Tallahassee insider” who marches in lockstep with President Barack Obama.

Scott’s albatross in the campaign has been his leadership of Columbia/HCA, a hospital conglomerate that ended up paying $1.7 billion in fines to settle federal charges of Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

Scott, who founded the company and built it into the largest for-profit hospital chain in the world, said he didn’t know anything about criminal activity and was never charged, but now assumes responsibility for what happened on his watch. He wanted to fight the charges, but was forced out by his board in 1997.

Sink, 62, worked for 26 years in the banking business, eventually becoming one of the state’s most prominent businesswomen. As Florida president of NationsBank — which later became Bank of America — she oversaw 9,000 employees, 800 branch banks throughout the state and $40 billion in customer deposits.

After parting ways with the bank in 2000, Sink stepped up to take a high-profile role in the failed gubernatorial campaign of her husband when he opposed Jeb Bush in 2002.

Then, positioning herself as an outsider, she won the job of Florida’s chief financial officer in 2006 in her first ever election. The CFO is the Cabinet officer who not only pays the state’s bills but has such other varied duties as regulating funeral homes, overseeing the fire marshal’s office and investigating insurance fraud.

The winner will replace Charlie Crist on Jan. 4. He ran for the U.S. Senate instead of seeking a second term. Crist lost the race to Marco Rubio Tuesday.