Jet fuel, shoe leather keep candidates going
By ADAM C. SMITH and SHELBY OPPEL
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 7, 2000
Judging by the two major Senate rivals' schedules on Monday, it was easy to see who thought he was ahead.
GOP Senate candidate Bill McCollum flew aboard a plush 737 on loan from billionaire Wayne Huizenga, as McCollum sought to drum up TV coverage and energize supporters in five cities. He remained confident he would find the votes to score an upset over Democrat Bill Nelson.
"The energy's out there; you can just feel it," McCollum shouted to several hundred enthusiastic Republicans in Orlando on Monday night. "We're surging at the end of this thing."
Nelson held a news conference in Tallahassee, where representatives of 10 organizations restated their endorsements of him. He then traveled to his old Melbourne-based congressional district to campaign on street corners and, he hoped, "have a personal encounter with every motorist."
"The polls are solid," Nelson said, ignoring a new survey that showed McCollum closing the gap.
The two major candidates -- along with unaffiliated candidate Willie Logan and Reform Party candidate Joel Deckard -- are vying to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, a Republican.
Nelson, 54, is the state's insurance commissioner and portrays himself as a consumer advocate. McCollum, 56, is a 10-term congressman from the Orlando area, best known for his effort to impeach President Clinton. Logan is a state representative being forced out by term limits.
They are campaigning amid an unprecedented fight between the two presidential candidates for Florida's 25 Electoral College votes.
Asked about the influence of the neck-and-neck presidential race, Nelson said Florida voters are ticket-splitters.
"They will cross regardless of party as they come down that ballot," Nelson said.
McCollum, though, is banking on the opposite. He campaigned Sunday with GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush and with Mack on Monday.
Between stops, McCollum and Mack waxed on about meeting Bo Derek the day before, and touted a new Zogby poll for MSNBC and Reuters.
Zogby showed Nelson leading McCollum 43 percent to 36 percent on Oct. 31, but by Sunday the results changed to 44 percent for Nelson and 43 percent for McCollum.
"We're getting a lot of momentum," McCollum told a supporter by mobile phone as a Huizenga host passed around mints and hot towels. "Everybody is very excited about helping George W. win, and I think we'll benefit from that.
At Clearwater's Country Park mobile-home park on Belleair Road, McCollum and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, education commissioner candidate Charlie Crist and insurance commissioner candidate Tom Gallagher knocked on doors. Mostly, they found empty homes and Northern visitors.
"I remember this guy when he was trying to get rid of Clinton," resident Don White said as McCollum marched up his walkway.
"We didn't succeed in that, but we need your help succeeding tomorrow," McCollum told him.
White couldn't offer much help, though. He's a Pennsylvania voter.
Nelson, meanwhile, staged a news conference where he basked in the praise of 10 organizations, representing police officers, consumers, gun control advocates and environmentalists.
Norm Bungard of St. Petersburg, representing the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said the group is against any "privatization" of Social Security.
McCollum and unaffiliated candidate Logan would let younger workers invest a small portion of their payroll taxes in the stock market. Nelson opposes such plans.
"I've seen firsthand the good that this program does and I don't want to see it put in jeopardy," said Bungard, a former manager for the Social Security Administration.
Alex Sink, the former NationsBank chief in Florida, said the state needs a senator who can lead "without rancor and without partisanship."
"In my opinion, we really need Bill Nelson's voice in the U.S. Senate," Sink said.
Nelson spent the afternoon on street corners in Orlando, Cocoa Beach and Melbourne. He was to join Vice President Al Gore for a "midnight madness" rally in Miami.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire