MIAMI (AP) - The BP oil spill, which fouled Panhandle beaches and hurt tourism statewide as visitors feared their seaside vacations could be ruined, was Florida's top story in 2010, according to an Associated Press poll of the state's newspaper and broadcast editors.
The oil spill edged political newcomer Rick Scott's election as governor in the annual poll.
The spill, which began in April off the Louisiana coast, created a worldwide impression that Florida's shores were awash in crude. It came at a time when tourism officials were seeing signs that the industry was starting to recover from terrible years in 2008 and 2009.
In fact, beaches in just six eastern Panhandle counties saw signs of oil - mostly tar balls and tar patties. The undersea gusher was capped in September and most of the oil has been cleaned up in Florida, although BP-funded crews are still working in some areas.
The tourism industry used deep discounts and strategic marketing to persuade more people to visit the state, but that cut deep into profits. And while 80 million visitors eventually came - about the same as recent years - they spent less.
If a poll of Florida voters had been conducted last December, almost no one would have known Scott. But he funneled millions of his own money into his campaign, promising to make the state more conservative, take on the political establishment and slash government spending, saying that would lead to job creation.
That message helped him defeat Attorney General Bill McCollum in the Republican primary and edge the Democratic nominee, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, in the general election.
Rounding out the Top 10 were:
- Florida had the nation's second-highest foreclosure rate, with one out of every 155 homes receiving a filing in October.
- Republican Marco Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate after first forcing Gov. Charlie Crist into an independent bid. He trounced Crist and Democrat Kendrick Meek in the general election.
- The state's unemployment rate reached an all-time high, topping out at 12.3 percent in March. It had dipped slightly to 12 percent by November.
- An extended January freeze destroyed 70 percent of the state's tomato crop, 4 percent of its oranges and more than 3 percent of its grapefruit.
- A SeaWorld trainer was fatally injured when she was attacked by a killer whale as horrified spectators watched.
- A Gainesville pastor caused an international uproar when he threatened to burn a Quran on Sept. 11, but he eventually backed off.
- Voters approved Amendments 5 and 6, which prohibits the Legislature from drawing legislative and congressional districts for political reasons or to gerrymander.
- And finally, voters rejected Amendment 8, which would have loosened the state's limits on the number of children who can be taught in public school classes.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)