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    Spot check

    By ADAM C. SMITH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 3, 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: Chris Mattolla

    RUNS: Tampa Bay, Palm Beach

    THE AD: An announcer declares: "Bill McCollum -- you know where he stands." Amid feel-good background music, McCollum speaks directly into the camera while newspaper headlines appear on the screen.

    "Recently I was criticized by both the far right and the far left because I said bigotry is wrong and that America needs hate crimes legislation. We do.

    "Look, I know that you and I won't always agree. That's okay. I'm not a typical politician. I'll always say what I mean and mean what I say. And I'll work hard to do the right thing to make you proud."

    The announcer concludes: "Bill McCollum. A senator we can be proud of."

    ANALYSIS: For a candidate trying to fend off accusations that he's a right-wing ideologue, getting attacked by conservative interest groups can be mighty helpful in projecting a moderate image. That's just what happened when McCollum started holding news conferences alongside gay activists to tout a bill providing stiffer penalties for crimes committed because of a victim's race, religion or sexual orientation. A number of groups, including the Traditional Values Coalition, said McCollum misled them and turned his back on his core beliefs to bolster his Senate race. McCollum said he has always supported a hate crimes bill, which he considers an anti-crime measure, not a gay rights measure.

    This spot underscores aims to introduce the Orlando-area congressman in a positive light, and it highlights the central message of the McCollum campaign: This is a man of principle and character. It's unusual for a candidate to remind voters that they might disagree with him, but McCollum knows his opponent will continue heralding some of McCollum's unpopular stances -- from leading the impeachment of President Clinton to opposing a ban on assault weapons. Voters, McCollum hopes, are more interested in a politician's sincerity than his position on every issue.

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