Byline: LARRY HANNAN
It was pouring rain in Jacksonville on Thursday afternoon, but it was still a beautiful day for Attorney General Bill McCollum.
After trailing former health care CEO Rick Scott for months in the Republican primary for governor, a new poll released Thursday showed McCollum with support of 34 percent of likely GOP voters, to 30 percent for Scott.
That's a sizable point swing in only seven days, when a similar Mason-Dixon poll showed Scott leading, 37-31.
The likely nominee when the race began, McCollum has been trailing Scott for months. He acknowledged Thursday's Mason-Dixon poll while touring a manufacturing plant in Jacksonville's Murray Hill.
"I think more people have started paying attention to this race," he said, "and begun to contrast my record of public service with the scandals of my opponent."
McCollum's campaign and associated political groups have begun hammering Scott with a growing tide of negative advertising, eliminating the lead that Scott built by pouring in his own millions early and often.
McCollum has portrayed Scott as running from a shady business past that included his tenure as CEO of Columbia/HCA, which was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud during Scott's tenure. Scott has criticized McCollum as a career politician who is too close to special interests, and a flip-flopper on issues like immigration.
Neither side has many nice things to say.
"We always knew the race would get close in the final days because of McCollum's dirty tricks," Scott spokeswoman Jen Baker said Thursday. She cited negative ads and supporters of McCollum calling for investigations into Scott's stewardship of Jacksonville-based Solantic.
A story by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald revealed that Scott settled a lawsuit in the spring with a former Solantic doctor who alleged licensing errors. A McCollum backer sued Monday to release Scott's deposition in the suit, sealed when it was settled.
The numbers show the McCollum tactics are working. The Mason-Dixon poll of 625 likely voters during Aug. 9-11, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, reversed a spring- and summerlong trend that showed Scott building double-digit leads as recently as July 30.
University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus said Scott is in trouble and is now playing defense after being on the offensive for months.
"There have been a lot of questions raised about Rick Scott's record lately," MacManus said, "and voters are beginning to have doubts about him. …