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    Nelson, McCollum focus on past votes

    In a final public debate, the U.S. Senate candidates attack each other's congressional records.

    By SHELBY OPPEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 2000


    ORLANDO -- Looking as much to the past as to the future, Senate candidates Bill Nelson and Bill McCollum picked through each other's congressional records to portray each other as out of step with Floridians in a debate Friday.

    Democrat Nelson aggressively attacked McCollum throughout the hourlong debate, bringing up a vote his GOP rival cast for a tax increase 18 years ago and portraying him as a tool of special interests.

    "He voted for a whopper," Nelson said of the $100-billion 1982 tax increase.

    He mistakenly called it a tax cut, but McCollum knew what he was talking about. McCollum acknowledged he made a "big mistake" in supporting the increase, but he cast Nelson as a liberal who has a long record of raising taxes and turning to government to solve problems.

    "I believe in better government, not bigger government," McCollum said.

    Both candidates bickered about soft money, abortion, tax increases, health care and insurance rates. But they each called for a return to "civility" in politics.

    Independent candidate Willie Logan, lecturing his better-known rivals, said today's politicians need to "do exactly what we say we believe in."

    The debate was the last before the Nov. 7 election. A CBS News/New York Times poll released this week showed Nelson, Florida's insurance commissioner, leading McCollum, a Republican U.S. congressman from the Orlando area, 42 percent to 33 percent. Logan, running as an unaffiliated candidate, had 7 percent.

    But their race is a sideshow to the hotly contested presidential race and the fight between Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush for Florida's 25 Electoral College votes.

    McCollum supports many of Bush's policies and invoked the name of retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, R-Fla. In contrast, Nelson never mentioned Gore and instead brought up GOP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has vowed to shut down the Senate next year to force a reform of campaign finance laws.

    The leading candidates fired back and forth on the issue of campaign finance reform, while Logan resumed his above-the-fray role as an unaffiliated candidate not beholden to campaign contributors.

    Nelson, McCollum said, "came on out and brought Bill Clinton in here to raise soft money," referring to President Clinton's Tampa fundraiser for Nelson this fall.

    "You know you brought in President Bush to raise soft money for you," Nelson replied.

    Nelson said McCollum failed during his 20 years in Congress to vote to limit soft money, the unregulated contributions to political parties, and he repeated his pledge to vote for such limits if elected.

    Yet, Logan insisted, "the only candidate here that can talk about campaign finance reform is Willie Logan. . . . Not only do I not believe in soft money, I am not taking soft money."

    On the subject of prescription drugs, McCollum said he wants to extend a subsidy to seniors to help them pay for their medicine. Nelson, for his part, said he wants to guarantee coverage for seniors through the Medicare program.

    McCollum also reminded the audience that Nelson voted to freeze an annual cost-of-living increase for Social Security recipients in the 1980s.

    Nelson attacked Logan and McCollum on Social Security.

    "Both of my opponents want to privatize Social Security," Nelson said, accusing McCollum of voting to increase the eligibility age "not once but twice."

    When it came to the divisive issue of abortion, both Nelson and McCollum tried to speak to both sides of the issue.

    "I am pro-choice," Nelson said, though he added: "I do not like abortion. I favor adoption.

    "No one likes abortion, but the government shouldn't be interfering with the right of that woman to decide," Nelson said.

    McCollum said Nelson was "extreme in his views" and said Nelson would allow so-called partial-birth abortions if the mother's health is in danger.

    "I am pro-life. I believe adoption is a loving alternative to abortion," McCollum said.

    McCollum said both sides of the national abortion debate should find common ground, such as parental notification for a teenager's abortion.

    Both McCollum and Nelson said they support a "common-sense" approach to gun control that includes requiring safety locks and closing the gun show loophole. But Nelson emphasized that McCollum opposed a federal waiting period for handgun purchases and a ban on assault weapons while in Congress.

    "Again, it's another distinction between us," Nelson said.

    As he has in his campaign ads, McCollum brought up the increase in insurance rates and blamed Nelson. Nelson blamed an arbitration panel that has allowed the rate increases over his objections and noted that he inherited a troubled insurance market after Hurricane Andrew.

    "I think you're hiding again from your record," McCollum responded. "You're saying everyone else is at fault."

    Nelson attacked McCollum's support for "gutting" safety standards for mobile homes after tornadoes tore through Central Florida in 1998.

    On the issues

    Here is a look at where U.S. Senate candidates Willie Logan, Bill McCollum and Bill Nelson stand on various issues.

    SOCIAL SECURITY: McCollum and Logan support allowing workers to invest a portion of what they pay in Social Security taxes in the stock market, saying that would buffer any ill effects. Nelson and Logan believe in using the budget surplus to guarantee Social Security's solvency.

    PRESCRIPTION DRUG COVERAGE FOR ELDERLY: All three support coverage but would provide it differently. Nelson and Logan would add coverage to traditional Medicare. McCollum supports a less costly plan to enlist private insurers and health maintenance organizations to offer the benefit.

    SIZE OF PROPOSED TAX CUT: Nelson proposes $500- to $600-billion in targeted tax cuts, which includes repealing the marriage and estate taxes. McCollum supports broader, across-the-board cuts similar to GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush's $1.3-trillion plan.

    GUN CONTROL: Both Nelson and McCollum oppose gun registration and licensing. Both Nelson and McCollum support closing the gun show loophole, which allows people to buy guns at gun shows without background checks, but McCollum voted against a Democrat-backed bill to close the loophole because he felt it was too restrictive. Nelson also supports an assault weapons ban and waiting periods for handgun purchases. McCollum opposed those measures in Congress.

    ABORTION RIGHTS: Nelson supports abortion rights but opposes federal funding for abortion for poor women, except when the mother's health is endangered or in cases of rape or incest. McCollum opposes allowing abortions unless a mother's life is in danger. Logan favors a woman's right to choose but opposes a procedure critics call "partial-birth abortions."

    SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Nelson opposes taxpayer-financed vouchers for private school tuition. McCollum supports vouchers. Logan supports vouchers for students in failing schools.

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