On the road with Bill McCollum: 'Must win' Jacksonville, I-4 areas focus of campaigning

The Daily News is on the road for a week shadowing the campaign of Bill McCollum. The Daily News also has been shadowing the campaign of Rick Scott for a week. Watch naplesnews.com and the Daily News for daily reports and subsequent stories on these two GOP governor candidates who face off Aug. 24.

— Bill McCollum rolled into Jacksonville on Thursday with a mission and a newfound motivation.

He had just kicked off his statewide bus tour to mark the final push before early voting ends and the polls officially close on Aug. 24. And he had some ammunition: a Mason Dixon poll released Thursday puts him ahead of Republican gubernatorial opponent Rick Scott by 34 percent to 30 percent, with the rest undecided.

McCollum’s campaign will remain on the road through Sunday, focusing on Jacksonville and the cities along the Interstate 4 corridor, stretching from Orlando to Tampa. The tour will not be making any stops in Naples or Fort Myers, nor in Miami or Fort Lauderdale.

He will spend part of Friday in the Jacksonville area as well, before moving on to Daytona Beach, The Villages northwest of Orlando and then Orlando.

“The I-4 corridor is very important for Republican votes,” McCollum said in an interview Thursday. “We thought we should come up here. ... We need to win it. It’s not all Republican in these communities, but it’s important all of the way into the general election.”

His approach was underscored Thursday night during a Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce event. McCollum emerged as the overwhelming winner of a straw poll.

The event, dubbed a “Hob Nob” by the chamber, featured representatives from dozens of local and state races, including a table representing Scott and, of course, McCollum himself.

In the straw poll, McCollum received 215 votes to Scott’s 141. Presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink was close behind with 138 votes.

McCollum’s campaign tour this week, in general, avoids Scott’s home bases: Naples, where Scott lives, and Fort Lauderdale, where Scott’s campaign is based.

However, Jacksonville is also the home of Scott’s current company, Solantic, a chain of walk-in clinics he founded and serves as chairman of.

McCollum said the campaign isn’t trying to ignore the Miami or Naples areas, but said he already has spent a fair amount of time courting voters there. He said he felt he needed to put in some time in the northeast and central portions of Florida.

“This is a convenient way for me to travel and spend time talking,” he said. “I’ve spent more time, a portion of it by far, between Stuart, Miami and Naples, than I have anywhere else, and I recently spent quite a bit of time in the Tampa area.”

Supporter Betsy Young sees the decision to spend nearly two days in Jacksonville as a strategic one, though.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum

Elections 2010 Page:

“Northeast Florida is the one that you have to have,” said Young, a past president of the Republican Women’s Club of Duval Federated. “Florida is a must-have in the national election and Northeast Florida is a must-have to counter the more liberal South Florida voters in a statewide election.”

Scott started his day at the Republican Women’s Club in Duval, ushered into the room amid applause and some whooping cheers from the audience.

Chelsi Henry, the chair of the Northeast Florida absentee ballot phone banks for the Republican Party, said Jacksonville already is friendly to McCollum. Henry is also the Northeast Florida African-American Coalition chair of the McCollum campaign.

“I think Jacksonville is very important,” said Henry, 22. “There’s a lot of support here.”

The trick, she said, is reminding them to vote.

Voters are notorious for skipping out on primary elections, so Henry said the key to getting a candidate like McCollum elected -- especially when he has broad support in areas like Northeast Florida -- is to simply make sure those voters get to the polls or send in their ballots.

Following McCollum’s appearance at the Republican Women’s Club, he moved on to the American Coolair Corp., a family-owned company that manufactures industrial fans entirely in the United States. It was a stop meant to emphasize his economic plan, which he promises will create new jobs by eliminating the corporation tax in Florida and easing regulations on small businesses like Coolair.

From there, McCollum attended the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce event in downtown Jacksonville, threw out the first pitch at a minor-league baseball game and attended a St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee meeting.

Earlier

Bill McCollum’s statewide bus tour started with applause and a cheer Thursday, as he was greeted by friendly faces in Jacksonville.

At a luncheon of the Republican Women’s Club of Duval Federated, the Republican candidate for governor was received with a standing ovation, applause and occasional whoops from the audience.

McCollum will spend the next day-and-a-half in Jacksonville, announcing portions of his economic plan and meeting with members of both the Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party.

Jacksonville will take up a significant portion of the four-day tour, which also has stops in St. Augustine, Daytona Beach, the Villages northwest of Orlando, St. Petersburg, Orlando and Tampa.

He has no stops scheduled in South Florida nor in Naples or Fort Myers as part of this tour.

“Northeast Florida is the one that you have to have,” said Betsy Young, a past president of the Duval Republican Women’s Club. “Florida is a must-have in the national election and Northeast Florida is a must-have to counter the more liberal South Florida voters in a statewide election.”

The Associated Press contributed Mason Dixon poll information to this report.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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