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Redirected Gallagher joins a unifed Republican front

Top GOP figures issued a "strong request'' that Tom Gallagher switch races.

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© St. Petersburg Times, published June 17, 2000

This time last week, Tom Gallagher acknowledges, leaving the U.S. Senate race was the farthest thing from his mind.

Tonight in Orlando, the state education commissioner will join presidential candidate George W. Bush and Gov. Jeb Bush on stage at a Republican fundraising dinner -- as a candidate for insurance commissioner.

Gallagher said Friday that Jeb Bush and Florida Republican Party Chairman Al Cardenas did not make any threats when they asked him this week to switch races.

"It was a strong request," he said. "I wouldn't say threat."

Gallagher will be on stage tonight with a suddenly unified Republican Party ticket. It starts at the top with the Texas governor and the presumptive GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood.

While Gallagher still is adjusting to his new race, other Republicans say it could work to his benefit. If he wins in November, Gallagher could serve two years as insurance commissioner and be the favorite in 2002 for a new, more powerful Cabinet position. The insurance commissioner and treasurer's job will be combined with the state comptroller's office into a new chief financial officer.

"Here is an opportunity for Gallagher to spend 10 more years in state government at a very high level and to have a platform to look at the governorship down the road, along with some others," House Speaker John Thrasher, R-Orange Park, said Friday.

Gallagher's most immediate task will be to find another campaign manager.

Marty Ryall, a Washington consultant who has been running Gallagher's Senate campaign since November, said he told Gallagher Friday he will be leaving.

Ryall, who ran Georgia Sen. Paul Coverdell's re-election campaign in 1998 and previously worked for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said his expertise is campaigns for federal offices and that he has been contacted by campaigns in other states.

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