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Gallagher coasts to victory and his old job

By JEFF HARRINGTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


It wasn't his dream job, but that didn't dampen Tom Gallagher's enthusiasm Tuesday night as he coasted toward returning to the seat he held six years ago as state treasurer and insurance commissioner.

Gallagher, a perennial Republican officeholder and now the state's education commissioner, overwhelmed Democrat John Cosgrove, a term-limited state representative from Miami, by a 3-2 ratio.

The seat is being vacated by Democrat Bill Nelson, who was elected to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday night. Gallagher initially was eying a run for Senate as well. He stepped aside when Republican leaders asked him to run for insurance commissioner instead, avoiding an expensive GOP primary showdown with Bill McCollum.

Gallagher, celebrating with family and friends at the Doubletree Hotel in Tallahassee, dismissed talk of the insurance seat as a consolation prize.

"I don't do something my heart isn't in," Gallagher said, moments after receiving a congratulatory call from Cosgrove. "Obviously, we're happy and we've got a lot of work to do."

Cosgrove, who watched returns come in at the Miami home of friends, said he had trouble overcoming Gallagher's statewide name recognition and deeper pockets.

Gallagher raised $2.3-million in contributions and party donations and Cosgrove $1.1-million in vying for a relatively short-lived prize.

The position of treasurer and insurance commissioner will be phased out in two years. As part of a state Cabinet shuffle, the job is being combined with that of comptroller to create a new position of chief financial officer.

Gallagher, 56, spent six years as insurance commissioner, leaving in 1994 for an unsuccessful run for governor. This was his sixth run for statewide office.

Cosgrove, his Democratic opponent, was chairman of the House insurance committee when Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992 and worked closely with then-Insurance Commissioner Gallagher to recover from the state's biggest insured disaster.

On the campaign trail, Cosgrove criticized Gallagher for race-flopping. The Democrat released proposals for a statewide prescription drug program and an expanded health care insurance program for children. Gallagher ran on a theme of trust and experience. He was less forthcoming with specific proposals, saying he prefers to work with the Legislature in crafting solutions to some very complicated problems. He deemed Cosgrove's plans as unworkable ideas that pandered to voters.

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