McCollum Embraces ‘Insider’ Label in Final Push
Barnstorming across the Florida Panhandle, McCollum campaigned as a familiar face to Republican voters casting ballots in Tuesday’s primary. Recalling his 20-years in Congress, McCollum called himself a “Ronald Reagan Republican” who, Zelig-like, was a political player when the Berlin Wall fell, the GOP’s Contract with America was signed, and Congress last passed a balanced budget.
“You know me,” McCollum assured a dozen supporters gathered at a Destin donut shop on a rainy Saturday afternoon. “All people know about Rick Scott is what he says in his slick TV ads.”
McCollum was clearly buoyed by recent polls showing him leading Scott by anywhere from 4 percentage points to as much as 10 points ahead of the first-time candidate, running as an outsider powered by his own personal net worth. A Mason-Dixon Polling & Research survey Saturday showed McCollum leading Scott 45-36 percent.
New finance reports released late Friday show Scott last week poured another $12 million into his campaign – bringing his personal contributions to $39 million. Scott’s wife also has spent another $11 million on her husband’s campaign through a 527 political spending organization – bringing the candidate’s spending to a record-shattering $50 million for the Florida Republican primary.
McCollum’s spending reached $7.7 million in the final pre-primary report – most of it from corporate donors. But McCollum also has been helped by a half-dozen spending committees which, combined have spent about $13 million on his behalf – giving him a $21 million campaign.
A $70 million Republican primary is stunning. But in a year when the Tea Party potency of political outsiders is dominating national talk shows, McCollum on Saturday went distinctly old school in courting Republican voters to his campaign.
“It’s about leadership, character, honesty and record,” McCollum said, during campaign stops with small gatherings of voters in restaurants in Pensacola, Panama City and Destin. “I’m proud of my record. But Rick Scott is running from his.”
McCollum’s campaign theme, which has been echoed in TV ads that also have featured such Republican Party stalwarts as former Gov. Jeb Bush, seemed to resonate with those joining the candidate Saturday.
“I’m so distressed by the tenor of this campaign,” said Barbara Stables, a Pensacola artist who came to a luncheon gathering with the candidate. “But I’ve known Bill and his record for 20 years. He’s interesting, knows government, and knows how to explain things in ways that are understood.”
The free-swinging tone of the campaign continued Saturday, with McCollum unleashing a last-weekend-before-the-election swipe by releasing a 10-year old deposition that showed Scott refusing to answer questions about Columbia/HCA in a corporate lawsuit.
On advice of his lawyers, Scott invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination 75 times in the course of the 33-page deposition. McCollum said the move clearly implies wrongdoing by Scott during his tenure as CEO of the health-care giant, which he left in 1997 – three years before the company paid $1.7 billion in fines and legal settlements to resolve accusations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
“People don’t take the Fifth Amendment unless they’re involved in case that involves their potential criminal liability. That’s why you take the Fifth. Otherwise, you just answer the questions,” said McCollum, the state’s attorney general.
Jen Baker, a Scott spokeswoman, was livid, condemning McCollum’s attack as a last-minute dirty trick. She said the lawsuit that led to the deposition was filed by Nevada Communications Corp., and stemmed from a vendor dispute with Columbia/HCA. Scott had left the company by the time he was deposed and stands by his claim that he knew nothing of Columbia/HCA’s billing practices that led to the federal probe.
McCollum acknowledged that a Central Florida supporter, who he wouldn’t name, had tipped the campaign to the Scott deposition.
“Just when you think Bill McCollum and the political insiders can’t get any sleazier, they call on a campaign contributor to do their dirty work and once again engage in last-minute desperate dirty campaign tactics,” Baker said. “It is disgusting and it is what people hate about politics. It is why Rick Scott is running to put an end to the insider deals.”
But McCollum’s insider role is clearly part of his last-minute appeal to primary voters. At every stop Saturday, McCollum was introduced by party leaders or former elected officials, including former House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, Walton County Republican Chairman John Magee, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan, and former state Sen. Charlie Clary of Destin.
Traveling with McCollum on his campaign bus was House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.
At an appearance in Panama City, McCollum contrasted himself with Scott.
“I hardly know the man,” McCollum acknowledged to about three-dozen supporters gathered at a dockside seafood restaurant. “But you know me. You know I’m a Ronald Reagan conservative, and you know how I will govern.”