Despite mixed to unfavorable ratings, Rick Scott benefited greatly from the midtermGOP wave, in which Republicans made significant gains across the country. Scott was one of six Republican gubernatorial pick-ups nationwide (counting Crist now as an Independent).
The tight and highly contentious election was one of the standout races in 2010. Despite not professing direct allegiance to the movement, Scott benefited from support and endorsement by Tea Party activists, an influential conservative voting bloc of the 2010 midterms. Furthermore, Scott ran aggressively against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and exit polls indicated considerable support for that position.
Alex Sink, the CFO of Florida, was mentioned as a possible candidate to run for Senate or Governor in 2010, but initially declined. When Charlie Crist announced he would not run for re-election, Sink immediately announced her campaign for governor. Sink was the wife of Bill McBride, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002.
Sink faced only token opposition in the primary. Her lone opponent was SocialistBrian Moore. On primary day, Sink won the Democratic nomination with nearly 77% of the vote.
In May 2009, Republican incumbent governor Charlie Crist announced he would not run for re-election, and instead would run for U.S. Senate. The move immediately turned the race competitive, as GOP-hopefuls lined up to run for the open seat. Former congressman and Florida Attorney GeneralBill McCollum emerged as the early favorite. McCollum had previously lost the election for Senate in 2000, and lost the Republican nomination for Senate in 2004. This would be his third attempt at a major statewide campaign.
Just before the deadline, Rick Scott jumped into the primary fight. Scott started dumping millions of his own personal fortune into the race. The race quickly became one of the most expensive and "nasty" primary campaigns in recent Florida history. Scott and McCollum lashed out with very negative attacks against each other. Scott ran as a political "outsider", and led some early polls, but McCollum re-took the lead in polls just before primary day. Scott benefited in the absentee voting, while McCollum expected to make up the difference based on turnout. On primary day, Scott won the nomination with just over 46% of the vote. The dejected McCollum team reluctantly conceded after midnight.
The race was dominated by the two major party candidates and spending on their behalf. By the October 25, 2010, Tampa debate between Scott and Sink, Scott had spent $60 million of his own money on the campaign compared to Sink's $28 million. Total campaign expenditure for the race exceeded $100 million, far exceeding any previous spending for a governor's race in Florida. Scott spent $78 million of his personal wealth in the race. Sink made an issue of Scott's connections to Columbia/HCA, a Medicare billing fraud scandal.
One of the turning points in the campaign came during the debate. During a commercial break, Sink's make-up artist delivered a text message on her cell phone to Sink, in direct violation of the debate rules. The rules infraction was immediately pointed out by Scott and the debate moderators. Sink's team was accused of cheating during the debate, and the aide who delivered the message was fired from the campaign the next morning. Afterwards, media and observers were very critical of the gaffe.
The 2010 governor's race was one of Florida's closest, decided by just over 60,000 votes. Unlike the concurrent Senate race, the governor's race remained in doubt late into the night. When polls closed, Scott had a lead, but as the night progressed, the margin narrowed. The next day, with over 99% of precincts reporting, Scott maintained about a 1% lead in the raw vote. Despite a small number of still-uncounted ballots from Palm Beach County, Sink's chances of winning were negligible, as Scott was still ahead by over 50,000 – much more than the 3,000 uncounted ballots, and more importantly, still above the threshold of 0.5% to trigger a mandatory recount. Sink conceded on Wednesday.
Exit polls showed that Scott won among independents and the two candidates split the Hispanic vote.
^Martinez resigned his seat in December 2008, and Crist appointed Republican George LeMieux to serve the remainder of Martinez's term. LeMieux declined to run for election, and Crist was one of three major candidates in the election for U.S. Senate.