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    Spot check

    By ADAM C. SMITH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 30, 2000


    Editor's note: To help voters evaluate political ads, Times reporters will review and analyze content.

    OFFICE: U.S. Senate

    CANDIDATE: U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood, Republican

    OPPONENT: Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, Democrat

    PRODUCER OF AD: McAuliffe Message Media, Alexandria, Va.

    RUNS: Statewide

    THE AD: The Florida Republican Party spot shows various pictures of Nelson, as well as text suggesting seniors should be wary of him, as a narrator says, "First Bill Nelson cozied up to insurance executives, grabbing big contributions. Now the drug companies are funding his false attacks on Bill McCollum. In Washington, Nelson voted to slash $44-billion from Medicare. Pushed a law to cut Social Security benefits -- $22-billion -- denounced by the AARP. Nelson's drug plan raises seniors' Medicare premiums $600. Lets bureaucrats decide what drugs seniors get. Insurance and drug money for Nelson, a raw deal for seniors."

    ANALYSIS: With seniors having the potential to cast at least one of every three votes in Florida's statewide races, both parties want to court them. The is the Florida GOP's effort to make seniors wary of Nelson, just as Florida Democrats are running an ad attacking McCollum's record on Medicare. Its run ended Thursday, after the nonpartisan AARP objected to its name being used in a partisan ad.

    Few industries are more widely hated than insurance and drug companies, and this spot suggests that Nelson is in their pockets. At best, this is a stretch. While it's true insurance industries have contributed more than $148,000 to his campaign, they have also contributed more than $95,000 to McCollum's. As insurance commissioner, Nelson has frequently butted heads with big insurance companies.

    The ad says drug companies are funding Nelson's attack ads against McCollum. One could just as easily argue that drug companies are paying for this ad. The GOP's reasoning here is that drug and health interests have given more than $1-million to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but according to the Center for Responsive Politics, they've given even more to National Republican Senatorial Committee.

    The ad also paints Nelson as dangerous for seniors because as a congressman in 1990 he voted for a budget deal that cut Medicare spending over five years and in 1985 voted for an amendment eliminating a Social Security cost-of-living increase. That's true, and Nelson says both votes were aimed at bringing the federal budget under control. McCollum is probably more vulnerable on his Medicare record, though, having voted eight times against Medicare spending increases proposed by President Clinton and supported by many of his Republican House colleagues.

    The final shot is at "Nelson's drug plan," which is Al Gore's proposal to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. It sums up that plan as a "new $600 tax on seniors," which is another stretch. The Gore proposal that Nelson embraces would give seniors the option of buying a drug benefit for an initial premium of $26 a month, though the premium would eventually rise to $50 a month, or $600 annually. It's a valid expense to point out, but of course Democrats attack George W. Bush's Medicare proposals -- backed by McCollum -- for putting too much faith in private insurers' helping seniors afford prescription drugs.

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