Bill McCollum basks onstage with George W. Bush as Bill Nelson visits black churches.
By ADAM C. SMITH and SHELBY OPPEL
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 6, 2000
TAMPA -- For Bill McCollum, it was like being the local house band opening for the Beatles. Except he didn't get to play much.
In city after city Sunday, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate basked in the cheers of thousands of energized voters -- voters fired up for George W. Bush. Never mind that McCollum wasn't allowed to speak at half of the Bush rallies; it was still another chance to link himself to Bush, and tap GOP enthusiasm for the top of the ticket.
Trailing by about 5 to 7 percentage points in most recent public polls, McCollum is hoping to ride a last-minute surge from Republican loyalists to push him over the top. By contrast, Democratic candidate Bill Nelson spent Sunday in the Orlando area with his party's most loyal voters: African-Americans.
"We want to get the right "Bill' in the Senate," said the Rev. Samuel L. Green Sr. of St. Mark African Methodist Episcopal Church Worship Center in the Orlando area. He said that his three brothers, all preachers, in Miami, Gainesville and Tallahassee, are also "pounding the pavement" to get friends out to the polls and reward the party they feel is responsible for economic prosperity.
Said Green: "If it's not broke, let's not try to fix it. Somebody say amen."
Nelson has frequently visited black churches during the fall campaign, but Sunday provided a fairly novel opportunity for McCollum: face time with the thousands of GOP supporters who are turning out to see Bush. McCollum visited four cities with Bush.
McCollum was one of a cast of dozens on stage with the GOP presidential nominee, but at an evening rally outside Raymond James Stadium he managed to stand out.
Bush started deriding Gore's support for "targeted" tax cuts, saying few Americans would benefit.
"How many of you got a rooftop photovoltaic system on your house," Bush scoffed over one of Gore's proposed tax breaks.
McCollum sheepishly raised his hand. "McCollum's got one," said a startled Bush, momentarily knocked off stride. "You're one of the lucky few."
In the final days of the Senate race, the McCollum campaign is increasingly turning to Bush and outgoing Republican Sen. Connie Mack to bolster his effort. Both are featured in new TV ads touting McCollum.
"He's the right man for Florida," Bush said at Florida International University in Miami. "So when you're out there working for me, be sure you're working for him. And when you're out there working for him, be sure you don't forget ol' George W."
McCollum is usually thrilled with crowds of 30 or more, and his rallies with Bush were a far cry from the sedate start he got on the day. He and Mack had a Holiday Inn breakfast buffet in Largo with about 20 Tampa Bay members of the Fraternal Order of Police. (The other major law enforcement organization, the Police Benevolent Association, endorsed Nelson.) "What this is all about is turning out the vote," McCollum told the officers, above sounds of clanging dishes from the nearby kitchen.
For Nelson's part, his day was spent campaigning with his family and U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La.
Ministers aren't supposed to endorse candidates from the pulpit, yet the African-American preachers in the churches Nelson visited still managed to make their preferences known. They reminded parishioners that times are good.
At the Rev. Randolph Bracy Jr.'s modern, three-story New Covenant Baptist Church, the majority of members have pledged to tithe at least $2,000 this year for a millennium building campaign.
"I have never in 56 years seen the prosperity I'm seeing now for people of color... . If a person can't find work in Orlando, he must be lazy," Bracy said.
Apparently referring to Republicans seeking to replace Democrats in the White House, Bracy said, "Y'all can go out and worship those strange gods who are telling you that you aren't doing better than you ever have before. But as for me and mine, I worship the Lord."
Though given the chance to speak at three of the four services, Nelson never directly asked worshipers for their votes. That would be inappropriate, he said.
He was speaking to them, he said, as the state insurance commissioner. He boasted about the $206-million settlement he reached with American General Corp., a national life insurance company, to reimburse black policyholders for years of paying more than white customers for low-value burial insurance. "The checks are being mailed right now to get your money back with interest," Nelson told the congregation of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church of Eatonville, just east of Orlando. Eatonville, part of Nelson's former congressional district, is considered the oldest incorporated town founded by African-Americans in the United States.
After the services, Nelson left for a Democratic rally at Century Village in Broward County, a 15,000-resident retirement community where activist Amadeo "Trinchi" Trinchitella holds an annual event. Nelson will campaign in Tallahassee and in another part of his former congressional district, Brevard County, today. At about midnight, Nelson said he will appear with Vice President Al Gore on Miami's South Beach.
McCollum planned to spend today alongside GOP leaders, including Mack, Gov. Jeb. Bush, Education Commission candidate Charlie Crist and Insurance Commission candidate Tom Gallagher. They are scheduled to hit Country Park Mobile Homes, 2331 Belleair Road in the Clearwater area about 11:15 a.m.
- Times political editor Tim Nickens contributed to this report.