In a room crowded with Christian conservatives in Miami, Bill McCollum and Rick Scott joined a collection of mostly GOP candidates running for attorney general Saturday to tout their equally conservative credentials.
Compared to the recent testy debates, McCollum and Scott were quite civil. McCollum made no mention of Scott's troubles as chief executive at Columbia/HCA, the massive hospital chain that had to pay a $1.7 billion fine for Medicaid fraud. And Scott stayed silent about McCollum as a "career politician."
The two GOP rivals sat at opposite ends of a long table inside a DoubleTree Hotel banquet room, but appeared to be the best of Republican friends before the Miami-based Christian Family Coalition forum.
McCollum spoke of his faith in God, telling the group that if elected governor he would have signed the ultrasound bill that Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed earlier this year. The legislation would have required most women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound.
He then talked about his economic plan to put 500,000 Floridians back to work by reducing taxes and regulations, and tackling tort reform.
He reiterated his pledge to continue the state's legal challenge to the federal health care law. As attorney general, he has filed suit against the federal government arguing that the law violates state's rights.
"I'm not running to be governor," said McCollum, "I'm running to govern."
Scott spoke about his childhood growing up Methodist in the Midwest in a modest family with little money. He also talked about his experience launching a doughnut business and later creating one of the nation's biggest hospital chains, Columbia/HCA.
He said he accepted Jesus Christ in his life at a young age and said he is prolife and has an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
But it's his business acumen that he plans to put to work to revive Florida's sagging economy. "We want to make this state the state to do business," he said noting his seven steps to create 700,000 jobs in seven years — a "777" plan.
If elected, Scott said he would cut property taxes, phase out the business tax and pump more money into universities for research.
While most polls show Scott with a sizable lead in the Republican primary, some in the audience were still on the fence just weeks before the primary.
Alma Herrera, a Miami entrepreneur who grew up in New York, said she was leaning toward McCollum because "he's an established politician — I know what I'm getting." But she was impressed with Scott's business background.
Robert Rodriguez, a lifelong Republican from Homestead, said he thought the choice was between an experienced politician and an experienced businessman. "Bill still has my vote," he said noting that the millions spent by Scott concern him.
But independent voter Noel Gonzalez of Miami says he could vote for Scott, saying that Scott "worked for his money and didn't inherit it."
Three GOP attorney general candidates — Holly Benson, Pam Bondi and Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp — appeared before the coalition members. Each talked about faith, families and conservative principles.
Benson, describing herself as a "Ronald Reagan optimist," said she would pursue tort reform and Medicaid fraud and aggressively fight the federal health care law.
Bondi spoke mostly about her experience as a prosecutor in Tampa and her fourth-generation Florida roots. She, too, criticized the federal health care law and promised to vigorously fight it in court. She also pledged to oppose gay marriage, and protect the U.S. border and the environment. She said she had no aspirations for higher statewide office or Congress. "This is not a steppingstone," she said.
Kottkamp said he would fight the federal health care law in court. "This isn't a lawsuit about health care — it's about freedom," he said. He added that he would battle same-sex marriage, saying Florida will soon have to deal with the same issues unfolding in California, where a federal judge struck down the state's ban on gay marriage.
The breakfast forum was sponsored by the Christian Family Coalition, a group founded in 2003 that has about 70,000 e-mail activists across the state.