Senate candidates sweep voter-rich South Florida
By SHELBY OPPEL and ADAM C. SMITH
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 4, 2000
MIAMI -- By about 9 a.m. in a hardscrabble part of downtown, U.S. Senate candidates Bill Nelson and Willie Logan had showed up in a church packed with African-Americans, women, recent immigrants and low-wage workers. The people were shouting and clapping as if their lives depended on it.
That is precisely what is at stake in Tuesday's election to Marie Jean Philippe, a union organizer and Haitian immigrant.
"Especially for us, if we don't vote for Democrats, we feel we're in jeopardy. The Republican Party can tell you flatly they're not for minorities," said Philippe, 49.
Republican Senate nominee Bill McCollum spoke to Cuban-Americans in Hialeah, and decried Fidel Castro's tyranny. At an AM radio station in Coral Springs, McCollum was the voice of moderation next to talk radio host Steve Kane's sweeping attacks on Democrats ("I think there are good men and women in both parties," McCollum offered.) At a restaurant in Boca Raton, he wolfed down pastrami on rye and blasted Yasser Arafat.
With Election Day closing in, the U.S. Senate candidates scrambled across voter-rich South Florida on Friday, trying to energize traditional supporters and latch on to the high profiles and popularity of their parties' presidential hopefuls.
South Florida is mostly Democratic country, and early polls showed Nelson leading the then-little-known McCollum by a 2-1 ratio in the region. McCollum is mainly aiming to avoid getting beaten too badly here, and he said his internal polls show him easily exceeding his goals.
McCollum appeared before relatively small but enthusiastic crowds in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, relishing reports of energized Republicans flooding elections offices with absentee ballots.
As he spoke in a glass-walled banquet room in Boca Raton, an elderly woman pressed her sign against the glass: "When Seniors Vote Democratic Everybody Wins."
"Nelson's stayed dead-even for one solid year, and we've gone up, up, up," McCollum told supporters in West Palm Beach. He referred to recent polls showing him either 5 points behind Nelson or 3 points ahead.
He has been pounding Nelson especially hard in South Florida on insurance rate increases, and says that has resonated with voters.
"I wouldn't know Bill Nelson if he walked in this room right now. In this area, what we know about Nelson is insurance hikes. We're getting clobbered on insurance," Dennis MacIlwain, 37, said at McCollum's Boca Raton rally.
Nelson, the Democratic state insurance commissioner, and unaffiliated candidate Logan attended the "Arrive With Five" rally in Miami, a statewide voter turnout effort aimed at boosting the presence of minorities and women at the polls. Nelson also appeared Friday with Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman in Fort Lauderdale and later at a Greek festival in South Tampa.
"I believe there is a wave building across the coast of South Florida. Tuesday, it's going to roll across Florida and take Al Gore and me to the White House," Lieberman shouted to a giddy crowd of supporters that included high school boys in Jewish yarmulkes and retirees with "Stay Out the Bushes" T-shirts.
McCollum is tying himself to some Republican heavyweights. Outgoing GOP Sen. Connie Mack is on TV touting McCollum and is supposed to campaign with him today. Sunday, he plans to join George W. Bush to campaign across Florida.
Nelson got himself in front of more voters Friday than his rivals. About 400 people attended the Miami rally and at least 2,000 heard Nelson speak in Fort Lauderdale, alongside Lieberman, talk show celebrity Rosie O'Donnell, and actor Rue McClanahan, of Golden Girls sitcom fame.
Nelson will attend another voter turnout rally in Fort Lauderdale today before a noon event at Lowry Park in Tampa. He plans to visit African-American churches in Orlando on Sunday.
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From the Times state desk
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