By ADAM C. SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000
As a Hernando High School sophomore and avid member of the Key Club, young Bill McCollum slept one night under the piano of the Key Club International president in Brevard County. McCollum's host that night in 1960? Bill Nelson, a fellow student government leader, whose Key Club convention speech that year remains neatly tucked in McCollum's scrapbook to this day.
Key Club was the first of many times the paths of these earnest and ambitious Florida natives would intersect over the years. But now, locked in a fierce, nationally watched race for the U.S. Senate, there is nothing friendly about their latest encounter.
Nelson, a Democratic former congressman and current state insurance commissioner, portrays McCollum as a right-wing ideologue out of step with most Floridians and willing to put special interests ahead of consumers. McCollum, a Republican 10-term congressman from the Orlando area, paints Nelson as a big government advocate with little sincerity, and a flop as insurance commissioner. Republican Connie Mack's retirement has created the first contest for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida since 1988, and it is a sign of the Democratic Party's recent resurgance in the South that Nelson has been consistently leading in the polls. If he wins, both of Florida's senators will be Democrats -- something McCollum frequently cites as a reason voters should be wary of backing Nelson.
The race also includes independent candidate Willie Logan, a state representative from Opa-locka, and Reform Party candidate Joel Deckard, a former Republican congressman from Indiana. But with neither Logan nor Deckard (nor the various other more obscure candidates on the ballot) gaining much momentum, this race has really been about the two Bills.
McCollum calls himself the logical successor to Connie Mack's "mainstream conservative" philosophy, and frequently tells audiences he believes in "better government, not bigger government."
He largely backs George W. Bush's platform, from allowing younger workers to invest part of their Social Security money to relying heavily on the private sector to improve seniors' access to prescription drug benefits. Huge projected budget surpluses, he says, ought to be spent paying down debt, cutting taxes, building up the defense and strengthening Social Security.
To most Floridians, McCollum is best known for his leading role in impeaching President Clinton, though over two decades he has taken a high profile on anti-crime and terrorism initiatives, fighting gun control measures such as the Brady Bill, ardently defending the Reagan administration during the arms-for-hostages controversy, and lambasting Janet Reno for her handling of Waco.
Nelson is a moderate to conservative Democrat, and when the two of them served in Congress together in the 1980s, they usually voted alike on budgetary and fiscal matters. McCollum contends Nelson moved left after leaving Congress.
Nelson is campaigning as the consumer advocate candidate and the one in step with most Floridians. He paints McCollum as a creature of special interests, especially banks and credit card companies, and promises to stand up for everyday citizens.
Nelson's platform largely mirrors Al Gore's. He would add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, for instance, and opposes any privatization of Social Security. He backs some tax cuts, but says McCollum's tax cuts would mainly benefit the wealthiest Americans while leaving little money left to work on such key issues as improving education, shoring up Social Security and protecting the environment.
State Rep. Willie Logan, D-Opa-locka, has waged a low-budget, low-key campaign as an independent, promising that he won't be beholden to special interests and won't be bogged down in petty party politics. Deckard, the Reform Party candidate, has run a virtually no-profile campaign, also touting his independence and his support of campaign finance reform and pushing for a non-interventionist foreign policy.
Other candidates on the ballot for U.S. Senate include: unaffiliated candidates Andy Martin and Darrell McCormick; Natural Law Party candidate Joe Simonetta; and write-in candidates "Nikki O"; Olen Faulk; Richard Grayson; Brian Heady; and Argiris Malapanis.
Every state elects two people to serve in the U.S. Senate. Along with enacting federal laws, senators have the power to ratify treaties and confirm judicial appointments. They serve six-year terms and earn $136,700.
BILL McCOLLUM, 56, was born and raised in Brooksville. He earned his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Florida, and from 1969 to 1972 he was in the U.S. Navy. In 1992 he retired from the Naval Reserve after serving 23 years in the Judge Advocate General's Corps. He practiced law in Orlando until his election to Congress in 1980. He has flirted before with running for Senate, but this is his first campaign to move on from the House. He is married and has three children. ASSETS: property, profit sharing account with old law firm, investments. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: congressional salary, investments. WEB SITE: http://www.mccollumsenate.org.
BILL NELSON, 57, is a Miami native and fifth-generation Floridian who grew up in Melbourne. He graduated from Yale University and earned his law degree at the University of Virginia. He served two years in the U.S. Army, where he was a captain. He was elected to the Florida state House in 1972 and served six years before moving on to Congress. He served in the U.S. House for six terms before an unsuccessful bid for governor in 1990. Four years later, he was elected insurance commissioner and then re-elected in 1998. He is married and has two children. ASSETS: property, investments, retirement plans. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: state of Florida, investments, federal pension. WEB SITE: http://www.nelsonforsenate.com.
WILLIE LOGAN, 43, is a native of Opa-locka. He has a bachelor's degree in accounting and an MBA in health care administration, both from the University of Miami. In 1980, he founded a non-profit housing agency, the Opa-locka Community Development Corp, which he still heads and faced controversy over because of a personal loan he received from his agency. Logan also has a management consulting firm. He was elected mayor of Opa-locka in 1980, at age 23, and two years later was elected to the state House, representing Opa-locka and northwest Miami-Dade County. Though a lifelong Democrat, he has formed alliances with the Republican leadership and backed Jeb Bush in the last governor's race. ASSETS: property, investments. LIABILITIES: mortgage and bank loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: legislative salary, consulting business and housing agency. WEB SITE: http://www.logan2000.org.
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