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Rookies Preferred

It’s not a good year for veteran politicians, even conservative ones.

Jul 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 40 • By KENNETH Y. TOMLINSON
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“If you want a career politician, then go with McCollum. But if you want someone who learns, leads, and demands accountability .  .  .” After all this, Scott is still ahead in the polls.

Scott is an unlikely politician. He grew up in a small town outside Kansas City, Missouri. His father was a long-haul truck driver. His mother worked at a host of jobs to support the five children, and, as she told him growing up, “to help you all make something of yourselves.”

From an early age he worked hard, helping his mother at tasks ranging from cleaning phone booths to short-order cook. It was from her in those tough years that he developed a commitment to entrepreneurship.

Scott spent 29 months as a radar technician in the U.S. Navy, married his high school sweetheart, and went on to the University of Missouri Kansas City (where he bought, revived, and sold two doughnut shops). He earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University, and joined a Dallas firm. It was there that he and a major client bought those first hospitals that served as the foundation for his business empire.

Scott cut his political teeth  in the fight against Hillarycare in 1993. “Rationing is the ultimate destination of government-run health care,” he says now, “and the people who need help most suffer the most.” Last year, he mobilized against Obama-care. He organized Conservatives for Patients’ Rights to battle Obama’s health care plans. The band of political and advertising consultants he put together were among the most talented opponents of the Obama public option plan. Today those operatives have been transformed into the foundation of his campaign for governor. 

McCollum says he has yet to spend much of the $7 million he has raised for his campaign, and while that may not come close to matching the money Scott can spend (and already has), McCollum will find it hard to do worse than his Alliance for America’s Future allies did with their Medicare fraud ads. On the other hand, Scott at this point may only need to convince Republicans that he can defeat Sink to win the primary.

For establishment conservative politicians who had expected to ride the public disenchantment to victory this fall, the McCollum campaign may be illustrating the old Pogo comic-strip line popular when he was a young conservative activist at the University of Florida: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson is a former editor in chief of Reader’s Digest.

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