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Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott speaks to members and guests of the Lee Republican Women Federated Luncheon on Monday, July 12 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Myers. Lexey Swall/Staff

Photo by LEXEY SWALL

Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott speaks to members and guests of the Lee Republican Women Federated Luncheon on Monday, July 12 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fort Myers. Lexey Swall/Staff

Candidate for Florida governor Bill McCollum addresses attendees during a town-hall style meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, FL. on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors/Florida Press Association annual conference. BRIAN BLANCO/Special to the Daily News

Candidate for Florida governor Bill McCollum addresses attendees during a town-hall style meeting at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, FL. on Thursday, June 17, 2010 at the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors/Florida Press Association annual conference. BRIAN BLANCO/Special to the Daily News

Bill McCollum took the Republican gubernatorial fight to his rival’s backyard Saturday night.

Rick Scott is spending millions to buy the governor’s mansion,” McCollum told a meeting of the Naples tea party. “He’s using his fortune, saying things about me that are half-truths at best, and most are not true at all.”

GOP candidate McCollum held a pair of events in Naples on Saturday. After speaking at the grand opening of the new Collier County GOP headquarters at 2500 U.S. 41 N., McCollum went to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall, 800 Neffs Way, to address members of the Naples tea party and the Naples Council for Constitutional Principles.

The tea party has been the most visible, and most energized, component on the conservative side of the political spectrum, and its support could be critical to winning in the Republican primary Aug. 24.

In this topsy-turvy election season, with sitting governor Charlie Crist forced to abandon the Republican Party because he slipped in the polls to opponent Marco Rubio, McCollum’s strong name recognition and years of political experience seem to have just made it easier to attack him as a “career politician.”

McCollum was widely expected to cruise to the party’s nomination, before Naples resident and former health care executive Rick Scott jumped into the race and spent a reported $20 million of his own fortune to buy commercials. The blast McCollum because, among other transgressions, he “endorsed pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights candidate” Rudy Giuliani.

Trailing in the polls, McCollum has struck back with ads charging Scott “profited from abortion,” from his scandal-plagued tenure as CEO of health care giant Columbia HCA. The intramural mudslinging has prompted political website Talking Points Memo to call the McCollum-Scott race a strong entry for “America’s nastiest primary.”

McCollum scored a win this week when U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle threw out Scott’s legal challenge, which tried to prevent McCollum receiving state matching funds to help level the playing field against the advertising blitz funded by Scott’s personal fortune.

McCollum is working hard to convince the Tea Party he is one of them. He pointed to his 100 percent pro-life voting record in Congress, and told the crowd about initiatives he is pursuing as Florida’s Attorney General.

The room erupted in cheers when he said he is joining with several other state Attorneys General in an amicus curiae brief supporting Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

“Our argument is very simple,” said McCollum. “The state has the right to enforce any state or federal law.”

He was cheered again when he said that, shortly after the federal health care bill passed, he joined 19 attorney generals in filing a lawsuit to have it declared unconstitutional.

“We darn well better win that,” said McCollum. “We will take the nation back. In 2012 there will be a new president, and it won’t be President Obama,” eliciting more cheers.

McCollum outlined a program of less regulation on business, tort reform to curb medical malpractice costs, and education reforms including merit pay for teachers.

“As Dick Armey said, ‘Bill McCollum was tea party before there was a tea party,’” McCollum told the group as he wound up his stump speech. With the sound system at the VFW inoperable, he had to address the roughly 100 tea partiers without amplification.

House District 101 candidate Larry Wilcoxson said he is still trying to decide between McCollum and Scott.

“I like him, and I like Scott, too,” he said. “I wonder if they can stop slandering each other and talk about issues.” He was definite, though, on his support for the tea party. “I’m a constitutionalist. I believe solely in the law, even though when it was written, it didn’t benefit people who look like me.” Wilcoxson is black.

Tea Party volunteer Sheila Mahoney said she has made up her mind to support McCollum. “I agree with what he says. I am pro-life, and I want lower taxes,” she said. “He has the experience we need.”

Collier County Commissioner Tom Henning also said he supports McCollum. “He has a lot of experience, and is a true leader in the state of Florida,” he said. “His ideas are more realistic.”

A native Floridian and former Navy JAG officer, McCollum spent 20 years representing Central Florida in Congress, and is currently Florida’s Attorney General. The winner of the Aug. 24 primary will face Democrat Alex Sink and independent candidate Bud Chiles in the November general election.

E-mail Lance Shearer at lances22@gmail.com

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Comments » 1

ulflei writes:

Even if only 50% of what these two accusing each other is true ,they both are not electable anymore.
They did a brilliant job to destroy each others political career.

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