Civil war, utter dysfunction destroying Rick Scott's weak reelection chances
After days of headlines about the racist jokes and campaign dysfunction that led to the resignation of Rick Scott’s Finance Chair, tonight brings new revelations that the Scott campaign is plagued by “paranoia,” an organization that is “90 percent behind plan,” and the likelihood that amid miserable poll numbers and a chaotic reelection effort, donors and supporters are likely to defect to his Democratic opponent.
Rick Scott is one of the most vulnerable governors in the country, and he sure seems to be crumbling under the pressure.
Top Rick Scott donor blasts campaign’s ‘paranoia’
By Alexander Burns
The finance co-chairman of Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign accused the Republican’s campaign manager last month of “insulting” behavior and declared in a private email that her “paranoia” was undermining Scott’s effort to win a second term.
Mike Fernandez, a Florida health care executive and prolific political donor, sent a series of emails in February to Melissa Sellers, the operative tasked with leading Scott’s reelection bid. In one explosive message, reported earlier Tuesday by the Miami Herald, Fernandez raised acute concerns about Scott staffers having used “culturally insensitive” language and mocked Mexican accents in the presence of a Fernandez aide. The Scott campaign has denied that any such incident occurred.
In a second, previously unreported email, Fernandez complained bitterly that the Scott campaign was cutting him off from a governor he had committed to support. Fernandez noted that Sellers would not allow him to take home a copy of campaign survey questions and that a memo Fernandez wrote for the governor’s approval never reached Scott’s desk.
And Fernandez shared his blunt view that the reelection operation was months behind schedule, pointing a finger at Scott chief of staff Adam Hollingsworth for alienating top Republican stakeholders from the Scott effort.
The charged missives from a deep-pocketed GOP donor are a vivid illustration of sharp tensions within the team of one of the 2014 cycle’s most endangered governors. A former hospital executive who spent more than $70 million of his own money to win the governor’s office in 2010, Scott has lagged in the polls against party-switching former GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
In his second alarm-ringing email, which a source shared with POLITICO, Fernandez recalled several occasions on which Sellers “sometimes in front of others … directly told me that ‘we need to be paranoid in the political world.’”
“Let me remind you of certain facts,” the exasperated Fernandez wrote on February 21. “I heavily invested in our state. I have committed a year to Florida. I am using resources to sell our story and to be told over and over directly or indirectly that someone in my position can not be trusted because of your paranoia is unacceptable.”
Fernandez comprehensively panned the condition of the Scott campaign, lamenting that well into the campaign season he has not been privy to the governor’s overarching strategy.
“The campaign execution of a rollout (based on financial statements) IS two or three months behind schedule,” Fernandez wrote. “Based on the financial data I saw Monday, we are 90 percent behind plan. I can only attribute that to the lack of experience within the ‘inner circle’ that I am not a part of.”
Fernandez did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Sellers did not provide a comment about the email, but a Scott campaign spokesman said that the reelection effort is proceeding at full speed.
“Right now, we have $4 million on air in statewide TV ads. Just yesterday, we launched our first attack ad against Charlie Crist to let Floridians know he still thinks Obamacare is ‘great.’ All the Democratic Party has is lies and distractions,” Scott campaign deputy communications director Greg Blair said.
Curt Anderson, one of the architects of Scott’s 2014 campaign, said in a phone call that Fernandez had an “honorary title” with the governor’s campaign, and described the reelection bid as a fully functioning “battleship.”
“This is a bunch of immaterial foolishness that has nothing to do with the Rick Scott campaign,” Anderson said. “It has nothing to do with the voters of Florida … [Scott’s reelection] is going to be one of the most impressive campaigns anyone has ever seen.”
Anderson said that Scott couldn’t be “held responsible for every bizarre email” a donor sends. “Yes, we have a renegade donor making news but that’s all this is.”
Anderson specifically defended Sellers as an up-and-coming political talent: “In a [business] dominated by men, Melissa Sellers is one of the most talented operatives there is. There is not one person that the Rick Scott campaign would trade her for.”
Fernandez’s broadside wasn’t just directed at Sellers, individually. Copied on his second lengthy email were Florida state Sen. John Thrasher, Scott’s campaign chair, and Hollingsworth – whom Fernandez assailed for “making enemies out of much needed friends.”
“Lastly, and if you wish to shoot the messenger, shoot away,” Fernandez said. “Adam may hate me for saying this but I will not say it behind your back. I understand that the Governor has to be the good cop and many times he has to be the bad cop. But, from where I stand, it is way too early and way too aggressively.”
He continued, delivering a stern warning that Scott’s financial base could evaporate: “This is coming from the perception of those on the Governor’s own cheerleaders… Regional Chairs, big check writers (not lobbyist) and also lobbyist on the finance team. This last group have to protect their values and their pocketbook and if the perception continues and our poll continue as low as they are, this last group will slowly disengage and throw their support behind our opponent.”
Complaints about Scott’s operation – and Hollingsworth in particular – have circulated in Tallahassee on and off since the governor’s inauguration. Florida papers have been mercilessly critical of the governor’s chief of staff, whom the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times revealed to have lied about having a college degree he never earned.
Sellers is a relatively new addition to Scott’s operation: a former spokeswoman for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sellers served as Scott’s official spokeswoman before taking on the campaign manager job earlier this year.
Fernandez’s furious departure from Scott’s campaign team has rocked the gubernatorial race and launched several waves of negative headlines for the governor. Scott’s vast personal wealth has the potential to cushion any financial blow to the campaign.
Still, some Scott supporters – apparently including Fernandez – worry that the weaker the governor looks, the more appealing Crist will become for opportunistic donors seeking influence with Scott’s famously malleable challenger.
At the time he wrote to Sellers last month, Fernandez was not yet prepared to cut ties with the Scott team. But he didn’t sound optimistic about his relationship with the campaign.
“I will ask you to share this note with Rick again, but since I am not sure that it will be shared, I will copy Senator Thrasher and Adam,” Fernandez wrote. “I know that I am not making friends within ‘the circle’ but I only operate with the understanding that I will do all I can to get our governor [reelected.] I owe my loyalty to him and only him.”
Fernandez concluded: “I am looking forward to a lively and possibly animated discussion on these issues.”