McCollum wants to debate Rick Scott; Mitt Romney endorses in governor race

Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott said people started suggesting he run for governor after hearing him speak out about how the federal government needed to stay out of health care.

Provided by Rick Scott for Governor

Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott said people started suggesting he run for governor after hearing him speak out about how the federal government needed to stay out of health care.

State Attorney General Bill McCollum.

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State Attorney General Bill McCollum.

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— If Rick Scott wants to debate, Bill McCollum is looking forward to it.

So the two frontrunners in the race for the GOP nomination for Florida governor to replace Charlie Crist could be on track to debate before the Aug. 24 primary.

Current Florida Attorney General McCollum’s campaign confirmed that it received Naples businessman Scott’s letter Monday, challenging McCollum to four debates before the primary.

McCollum’s campaign released a statement through spokesman Ryan Duffy, stating: “We look forward to debating in advance of the primary.”

Many details of how many debates, when, where, and coordinated by whom are yet to be worked out.

And there could be a question of how many debaters there may be.

This week, candidates are filing qualifying papers for state and county races to get their names on the fall ballot.

According to the Florida Division of Elections website, as of Monday evening there were as many as nine candidates who had shown their intention to seek the GOP nomination for Florida governor. But one listed has said she is dropping out.

None had yet formally qualified to get on the ballot as of 6 p.m., according to the state website, but they have until noon Friday.

Scott surged to the lead in the Republican primary for governor in a poll released last week, then sent out a letter to McCollum’s campaign asking for four debates.

“I have been criticized by you and the media for not playing by the political insider ‘rules’ on how to wage a campaign in Florida. I wear that criticism as a badge of honor,” Scott’s letter said. “... I hereby challenge you to four statewide debates leading up to primary day.”

Scott leads McCollum 44 percent to 31 percent in the Republican primary, a Quinnipiac University poll released this past week showed.

McCollum recently picked up endorsements from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and on Monday, from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“Bill McCollum has a record as a principled conservative leader who has always fought for lower taxes, less government and traditional values, and I’m proud to support him as Florida’s next governor,” Romney said in a statement. “It is time to return true conservative leadership to the Florida governor’s mansion.”

Monday on his website, Scott responded through spokeswoman Jennifer Baker regarding Romney’s endorsement of McCollum:

“It should surprise no one that the political establishment is frantically trying to prop up Bill McCollum’s faltering campaign. But no endorsement can change the fact that Bill McCollum is a career politician and former lobbyist who sat on his hands and watched Florida’s economy crater, in contrast Rick Scott is a conservative outsider who will hold government accountable and turn the state around.”

The GOP candidate who dropped out is state lawmaker Paula Dockery from Central Florida. Others listed as Republican gubernatorial candidates on the state website are Lakeland native William D Crawford; Tim Devine of Kissimmee; Michael McCalister of Plant City; Berthram Samuel of Miami; James VanDriessche of Largo and Ed Heeney of Boynton Beach.

Crist is seeking a U.S. Senate seat from Florida, running without party affiliation.

Click here for Daily News' initial report on Rick Scott's campaign for governor, HCA and his background

Click here for a Q&A with the Daily News and Rick Scott

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