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    Nelson lashes out at McCollum

    By ADAM C. SMITH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 22, 2000


    TAMPA -- Moving his so far low-profile U.S. Senate campaign onto the offensive, Democrat Bill Nelson Monday jumped on Republican Bill McCollum as out of step with mainstream Floridians on guns, abortion and education.

    The insurance commissioner and former congressman told more than 75 women gathered in Ybor City that those will be key issues for showing voters who truly represents most common sense Floridians.

    He told the crowd that as a fifth-generation Floridian, he grew up with guns, is an avid hunter, and is son-in-law to one of the world's most renowned trophy hunters.

    "But we don't need to be selling AK-47s," Nelson said, noting that McCollum not only voted against bans on assault weapons but also against various bills that included waiting periods for handgun purchases, such as the Brady Bill.

    "I don't think that's reasonable. I don't think that's common sense," he said, standing on a stairwell in the ornate lobby of the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn. In Congress, Nelson supported waiting periods.

    The sharp contrasts Nelson offered between him and McCollum appeared to signal the start of a more aggressive campaign mode.

    For months, McCollum has been crisscrossing the state for campaign appearances and flooding newspapers with near-daily faxes about McCollum's doings and Nelson's shortcomings. Nelson, comfortably leading in statewide polls, had kept a much lower profile but lately often had been on the defensive against various criticisms and charges by the McCollum campaign.

    "It seems like he's changing his message again," McCollum campaign spokeswoman Shannon Gravitte said, suggesting that McCollum, unlike Nelson, is consistent on where he stands.

    "What you have in Bill McCollum is someone who says what he means and means what he says," she said.

    The overwhelmingly Democratic crowd in Ybor City appeared to welcome Nelson's efforts to highlight McCollum's record, with several scoffing at McCollum portraying himself as a centrist.

    "Bill McCollum is racing to the middle as fast as he can, and I just hope he doesn't get away with it," said Alex Sink, the former head of Florida operations for Bank of America.

    Former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman called McCollum "to the right of Atilla the Hun."

    Nelson, calling Tampa Bay "the critical battleground" in the Senate race, said McCollum's support of massive tax cuts, rather than more targeted tax cuts, threatens to "squander" historic opportunities to shore up Social Security and schools with money from projected budget surpluses. He said he wants to use some of that money to increase teachers' pay, shrink class sizes and update schools. McCollum says the same thing.

    Nelson produced eight pages of McCollum's voting record on education matters -- everything from McCollum's support for school vouchers to assorted votes against education appropriations.

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