TALLAHASSEE - After taking plenty of time filling a 10-month vacancy for lieutenant governor, Rick Scott has moved swiftly in rounding out the top of his re-election campaign team.
Melissa Sellers, communications director in the governor’s office, punched out of that job Friday to become Scott’s campaign manager. State Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, once eyed as a possible running mate, will now do double duty as a lawmaker while also serving in the largely ceremonial post of campaign chairman.
Campaign finance co-chairs will be Mike Fernandez and Darlene Jordan, who winters in Palm Beach.
Fernandez runs MBF Healthcare Partners, a Coral Gables-based equity company, and tucked a $1 million check into Scott’s re-election campaign in November.
Jordan, a Palm Beach Preservation Foundation trustee, is a former Boston prosecutor who runs the financial firm, Hellman, Jordan Management Co., with her husband, Jerry. The couple contributed heavily to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and have been close to him since he first ran for governor of Massachusetts.
Fernandez and Jordan will be titular leaders of Scott’s effort to raise what he has said would be a $100 million re-election campaign.
“We’ve made much progress over the past three years,” Scott said in announcing the new hires. “But there is so much more to be done and I will keep my eyes focused on Florida’s future.”
Among others named: Matt Moon, who will be switching from his communications director role with the Florida Republican Party to the same post with Scott Re-Elect. Taking his place in the Florida GOP will be Susan Hepworth, lately the party’s press secretary.
In another move from party to campaign, Tim Saler, lately a Florida GOP strategist, will become Sellers’ deputy manager in charge of media and voter outreach programs.
Not mentioned in the campaign lineup is Scott’s chief-of-staff, Adam Hollingsworth, who remains in the governor’s office despite drawing heat in December following media reports that he falsified his resume while working for a previous employer.
Party fundraisers, though, still see Hollingsworth as having his hand on both steering wheels: the campaign and governor’s office.
Meanwhile, the chief consultant in Scott’s victorious 2010 campaign, Tony Fabrizio, has a diminished role this go-around, after clashing with Hollingsworth.
By contrast, Scott’s leading rival, Democrat Charlie Crist, has few of the trappings of a campaign organization.
Crist had Democratic operative Bill Hyers lined up in November as campaign manager – ready to capitalize on a hot political property who had just helped Bill de Blasio win the New York mayor’s race.
But Hyers backed out – evidently preferring to stay in the Northeast rather than launch a yearlong stay in Florida.
Crist is still shopping for a manager, advisers said.
“He’s doing fine,” said Kevin Cate, a Crist spokesman. “We’re raising money and he’s having no trouble getting his message out. But you watch — in the next month or so, we’ll be making some announcements.”
At the end of December, Crist had about $2.8 million on hand for his campaign – while Scott had $24.4 million in contributions. The Florida Republican Party had about $23 million in cash on hand, compared with about $2 million for Florida Democrats, state records show.
Asked about the mismatch last week, Crist turned it into a badge of honor.
Scott was to spend the weekend with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is on a two-day, four-city swing across Florida, including a stop in Palm Beach, to raise money. The cash will flow to Scott, the Republican Governors Association and the state GOP.
“For them, it seems to be all about the money,” Crist said outside a Tallahassee fundraiser of his own Thursday evening. “Whoever he thinks can come down and get him more money, he’s willing to stand with.”’
Christie recently has been rocked by news that top aides last year allegedly conspired to shut down lanes of traffic leading to the busy George Washington Bridge in an apparent act of political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee. Christie says he was “blindsided” by the news.
Crist also reacted when told that Republicans have boasted they will race so much cash for the governor’s race that Crist won’t know what hit him.
“That’s a heckuva an attitude, to not know what hit me,” Crist said. “I’m running because I want to help my fellow Floridians. I’m not interested in hitting people. What kind of attitude is that? What kind of message is that?”
Crist said Republicans had a “callous attitude.”
Just hours before Scott fleshed out his campaign team, Crist also took a swipe at the governor when asked to evaluate former state House Majority Leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s selection as running mate last week.
“Carlos is a fine fellow, but he’s with the wrong guy,” Crist said.