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    Groups spending big on McCollum

    Several organizations are laying out thousands to support the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

    By ADAM C. SMITH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


    Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill McCollum often reminds people that his staunch support of gun rights is based solely on principle, because he accepts no contributions from the National Rifle Association.

    But that's not stopping the nation's top gun rights group from lending McCollum a hand in the final stretch of his campaign. The NRA has spent more than $208,000 on McCollum's behalf during the past four weeks, according to federal campaign finance reports.

    That's not quite as much as Handgun Control Inc., the gun control advocacy group, spent in September on TV ads attacking McCollum's record and helping Democrat Bill Nelson. But in the last days of Florida's Senate race, McCollum so far is the main beneficiary of campaign spending by independent groups.

    The National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, has spent more than $89,000 on McCollum's behalf, including radio spots. Also, the National Right to Work Committee, a Virginia-based anti-union group, says it is spending about $300,000 blasting Nelson as a liberal pal of "union bosses" in direct mail, TV and newspaper ads.

    Marion Hammer, head of the NRA affiliate in Florida, said she was unaware of the organization's efforts on McCollum's behalf, and officials with the national NRA office did not return phone calls. The McCollum campaign said they also were unaware of the NRA's efforts.

    A spokesman for the Nelson campaign, Dan McLaughlin, said the campaign has received calls about NRA TV ads in Jacksonville blasting Nelson, but McLaughlin had not seen the ad or a script. He doubted the campaign would respond.

    "We can't go into Jacksonville and North Florida to respond to a gun ad this late in the campaign," he said.

    While McCollum hasn't universally opposed gun control measures -- he supports requiring trigger locks, for instance -- he has been a key NRA ally as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime. He led the fight against banning assault weapons and against the Brady Bill, which requires waiting periods and background checks for handgun purchases. Nelson calls himself a gun rights supporter and opposes licensing and registration, but he supports waiting periods and the ban on assault weapons.

    In addition to help from the two interest groups, McCollum is bringing out a popular Floridian to help him close in on Nelson.

    Outgoing Republican U.S. Sen. Connie Mack and his wife, Priscilla, are taking to the airwaves to urge voters to replace him with McCollum.

    "Like us, Bill McCollum believes in better government, not bigger government," Mack says in an ad that started running statewide Tuesday.

    Nelson today kicks off a two-day statewide campaign swing with U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, former Florida first lady Rhea Chiles and singer Jimmy Buffett.

    McCollum, meanwhile, had a mild Halloween scare Tuesday while campaigning in the Panhandle with former President George Bush. Flying from Fort Walton Beach with two campaign aides, his King Air plane had to land suddenly in Marianna after pilots spotted oil on the wings. The incident forced McCollum to miss another rally with the Bushes in Orlando on Tuesday night.

    McCollum had raised more than $7.1-million in direct contributions as of Oct. 18, and Nelson has raised $5.7-million. Their parties also are pumping millions in "soft money" contributions into their campaigns.

    Unaffiliated candidate Willie Logan says he has raised less than $360,000, but the public would be hard-pressed to know who's backing his long shot campaign. Logan, campaigning as a champion of campaign finance reform, is one of 11 federal candidates listed by the Federal Election Commission as delinquent in filing campaign reports.

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