Opinion

Bill McCollum Lacks Money … and More

Bill McCollum Lacks Money … and More

By Kenric Ward
Sunshine State News

Flanked by state Rep. Dean Cannon and a South Florida Tea Party representative, Bill McCollum appeared to be well covered politically and geographically at his official filing Thursday for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

But appearances can be deceiving.

While McCollum racks up endorsements from GOP bigwigs and receives air support from political organizations in the form of hard-hitting TV ads, the attorney general continues to cry poor mouth as he is outspent by billionaire Rick Scott.

During a recent appearance before Florida citrus growers, McCollum expressed frustration that Scott, a first-time candidate, is on a pace to spend a record $30 million in the gubernatorial primary. As he has at other campaign appearances, McCollum pleaded for more cash.

McCollum’s complaint is ironic, since it was his war chest and party backing that helped pushed state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, out of contention a month ago.

But McCollum isn’t just being outspent by Scott. He’s getting outmaneuvered.

From left, Rep. Dean Cannon, Tea Party leader Everett Wilkinson and Attorney General Bill McCollum Right, Attorney General Bill McCollum at Thursday's filing. Credit: Colin Hackley

In a sense, the more endorsements McCollum picks up, the more he is perceived as an “establishment” candidate by conservative Republicans, who constitute the energized core of the GOP primary vote.

“Scott may be helped by division within the Republican Party leadership,” observes Lance DeHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University.

Just as Gov. Charlie Crist earned the enmity of Republicans and eventually bolted the party to pursue his U.S. Senate bid as an independent, McCollum’s coziness with the party establishment — including Crist crony, disgraced GOP Chairman Jim Greer — raises red flags on the GOP’s right wing.

McCollum hoped to soothe those jitters by having the regional director of the South Florida Tea Party accompany him for his candidate filing in Tallahassse Thursday.

But that Tea Party official, Everett Wilkinson, said last week that the group would not be endorsing in the gubernatorial primary.

Though calling McCollum a “proven conservative,” Wilkinson acknowledged that his Tea Party members were split on the race.

The Orlando Tea Party expressed similarly conflicting views, leaving the door open for Scott.

Tom Tillison, editor of the Orlando Political Press, said he had questions about Scott, but was “favorably impressed” after meeting and speaking with the former health-care executive.

Cannon, the House speaker designate from Winter Park, has no such ambivalence. Cannon’s political machine recently pumped $150,000 into McCollum’s campaign.

Those funds were linked to the Florida First Initiative, a Tallahassee-based group that bought $600,000 in air time accusing Scott, the former CEO of Columbia/HCA, of profiting from the “largest Medicare fraud in American history.”

Also in the mix was a $100,000 contribution to Cannon’s fund from the Florida Retail Federation Political Action Committee.

Previously, a Washington Beltway group called Alliance for America’s Future spent nearly $2 million to bash Scott. Because of the shadowy nature of the Alliance — run by Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — it is unclear where that funding actually came from.

McCollum also received roughly $1 million in reimbursements from the Republican Party of Florida for campaign expenditures that benefited the party.

Thus far, Scott has reported receiving no GOP support or third-party TV buys. The $13 million he reportedly has spent is from his personal accounts.

But in the face of funding from so-called “527” campaign groups working on McCollum’s behalf, Scott announced Thursday that he’s launching his own 527 committee to accept unlimited contributions from big donors. The “Let’s Get to Work” committee would run ads for Scott.

Despite McCollum’s constant appeals for more cash, the one-time front-runner is lagging farther behind in the fund-raising race — and his endorsements only seem to re-enforce the notion that he’s the consummate “insider” in a year that conservatives want to throw career politicians out.

Whenever McCollum tries to brand Scott as an incompetent CEO, a pro-abortionist or soft on immigration, the Scott camp has quickly retrieved McCollum’s record to highlight not-so-flattering positions taken by the former congressman and current attorney general.

Political insiders say Scott’s 13-point lead in the latest polls is due largely to his campaign team that includes Tony Fabrizio. Fabrizio, a widely respected Republican pollster and political strategist, heads Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates of Alexandria, Va.

“Scott is running a picture-perfect campaign, energizing a lot of young Republicans,” Dockery said.

McCollum recently received the endorsement of 2008 GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney. But even that may not be much help, considering that Romney’s support failed to save Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett from being dumped by his party this spring.

Noting that Romney trailed far behind John McCain in Florida’s 2008 presidential primary, University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith suggested a different tack for McCollum.

“Maybe he should call Sarah Palin,” Smith offered.

Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or at (772) 801-5341.

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