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    McCollum backs Logan's quest to join debate

    In the final weeks of the U.S. Senate race, the Republican seeks entry for his independent opponent.

    By ADAM C. SMITH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    Not too many people have paid attention to independent candidate Willie Logan in Florida's U.S. Senate race. Bill McCollum wants them to.

    The Republican nominee for Connie Mack's seat on Thursday joined Logan in calling for a group of television stations to include Logan in the final Senate debate Oct. 27. The stations have decided to exclude him because he is running so low in the opinion polls.

    "He is clearly a qualified and legitimate candidate for high public office, and I believe the artificial barriers that you have placed on his ability to appear . . . are inappropriate," McCollum wrote of Logan, a state representative campaigning from Opa-Locka.

    This from a candidate who disagrees with McCollum on issue after issue?

    The debate wrinkle highlights the conventional wisdom that developed soon after the maverick lawmaker entered the race: Logan hurts Democratic Senate candidate Bill Nelson because, as an African-American Democrat, Logan is much more likely to attract blacks who tend to vote for Democrats.

    Nelson, who on Thursday picked up the endorsement of the Sierra Club and campaigned with Democratic U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, said he would leave it to the debate organizers to decide who should participate.

    Logan was once widely seen as a major wild card in the Senate race. He never turned into much of a factor, however, as he failed to raise enough money to buy TV ads and his poll numbers steadily dwindled.

    He continues to criss-cross the state, campaigning at least as hard as Nelson and McCollum, but mostly below the radar screen of major media. On Monday, in what may be his last, best hope to pick up steam, Logan will face off against Nelson and McCollum in a live televised debate in Tampa moderated by Tim Russert. The debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. on WFLA-Ch. 8.

    Because of his poor showing in statewide polls, he is being excluded from the last televised debate four days later.

    The Florida News Network, a group of television stations across the state, set a polling threshold for its debate participants of 10 percent. That's lower than the Commission on Presidential Debates set but still too high for Logan and the other lesser-known candidates for Senate.

    Despite receiving lots of e-mails on Logan's behalf, Florida News Network coordinator Dan Leveton said he expected to stand firm on the decision.

    A statewide St. Petersburg Times poll early this month showed Logan with 3 percent support, compared with 45 percent for Nelson and 34 percent for McCollum. A Mason-Dixon poll taken early this month found him with 4 percent support.

    Organizers of Monday's NBC debate decided in August to invite candidates polling at least 5 percent, and Logan initially topped that earlier in the campaign.

    "Voters want to have more choices outside the two parties," Logan complained Thursday. "Folks like myself who are running outside the political parties are always going to (poll) under 10 percent, unless they're famous or millionaires or spend like millionaires."

    Meanwhile, Insurance Commissioner Nelson spent Thursday touting his second major endorsement from an environmental group. At news conferences in Tampa, Sarasota and Fort Myers, leaders and supporters of the Sierra Club echoed a previous endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters, calling Nelson a far superior environmental choice than McCollum.

    Kerry, an original organizer of Earth Day, touted Nelson's environmental record in Congress and the Florida Cabinet.

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