TAMPA — Attorney General Bill McCollum, in a dogfight with newcomer Rick Scott for the Republican nomination for governor, fired up nearly 250 Hillsborough GOP activists Friday night with a speech geared toward national issues.
Emphasizing his experience, McCollum received applause for his office's lawsuit against President Barack Obama's health care plan and predicted victory in the first round in U.S. District Court in Pensacola in September. By then, McCollum may or may not be the GOP nominee for governor. His own internal polling shows the race a dead heat.
"The Founding Fathers never intended for the federal government to have this much control over our lives," McCollum said.
The venerable McCollum emphasized his office's work to make Florida ready to handle oil spill claims and how he "shares the frustrations of everyone involved." He criticized the White House for a slow response to the gulf disaster, and he said the 28 skimmers off the Florida coast aren't enough.
"There's something fundamentally wrong," McCollum said.
Saying he wanted to "set the record straight," he said he supports Arizona's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration, an issue where Scott appears to have gained ground.
McCollum's standing as a party fixture after 20 years in Congress and four as the state's chief legal officer was on full display as he and his wife, Ingrid, worked the room at the Blaise Alfano Conference Center near the University of South Florida campus.
Not everyone was ready to support him. Sharon Calvert, leader of the 900-member Tampa Tea Party, said she's undecided. She liked McCollum's decision to sue in opposition to Obama's health care plan, but said of Scott: "He's a new face. He's an outsider."
McCollum, under fire from Scott's campaign for actively soliciting donations to two political committees working on his behalf, confirmed he has signed required paperwork with the state for elected officials who solicit such funds.
"I just decided I'm going to raise money openly for the Florida First Initiative, which has been supportive of me anyway," McCollum said. "We filed for two (committees) as I recall."