Attorney general race down to final two?

Negron’s withdrawal leaves fellow Republican McCollum and Democrat Campbell as the likely ones to face off in the fall.

Published July 17, 2006

State Rep. Joe Negron dropped out of the race for attorney general on Monday, effectively handing the Republican nomination for the post to former U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum.

Negron, of Stuart, is the third Republican to abandon the attorney general’s race in a month, including Treasure Island state Rep. Everett Rice. All said they were overwhelmed by McCollum’s high statewide name recognition.

McCollum, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2000 and 2004, will probably face Democrat Walter “Skip” Campbell, a Broward County state senator, in November. Campbell is running unopposed for his party’s nomination.

Negron’s announcement, on the first day candidates could qualify for the ballot, surprised McCollum, Campbell and political observers.

Negron said his campaign was well financed and well organized, even comparing it Monday to the national championship University of Florida men’s basketball team.

The problem is, Negron said, McCollum is the Miami Heat.

“He’s at a different tier,” said Negron.

Negron had raised more than $1-million, more even than McCollum. But Negron’s financial backing appeared to be drying up; in his most recent fundraising quarter, which ended June 30, McCollum outraised Negron almost 10-1.

“In 18 months on the campaign trail, I have not met a Republican activist who did not know who Bill McCollum was,” Negron said.

McCollum, who on Monday announced the support of state Sen. Burt Saunders, R-Naples, who dropped out of the race in June, said Negron’s decision helps Republicans.

“It’s certainly going to feel like a vacation having no primary,” McCollum said. “But actually, I’m probably going to be busier trying to get all of Joe’s contributors to donate to us.”

McCollum now shifts to a general election campaign and begins it nearly tied in fundraising with Campbell.

McCollum, through June 30, had $662,777 cash on hand compared with $618,009 for Campbell.

Campbell was vacationing in Maine and unavailable for comment. Campaign spokesman Jeff Garcia moved quickly to characterize the reshaped election, painting McCollum as an out-of-touch, registered Washington lobbyist.

“We think the contrasts between these two men in the eyes of the voters will be very good for Sen. Campbell,” Garcia said.

Times staff writers Jennifer Liberto and Alex Leary contributed to this report.