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McCollum and Crist are both Republicans, and that's about where similarities stop

Bill McCollum is the anti-Crist. As in Charlie Crist.

The question is: Will people in Florida be ready for such a jarring transition of styles in the Governor's Office? Or is McCollum the perfect act to follow the tanned and rested one?

These two Republicans couldn't be more different. Where Crist exudes style, McCollum has substance.

Crist is half Greek. McCollum is a geek — no sense in finessing it. Crist is tanned. McCollum is bland.

Crist is a glad-hander. McCollum is glad to talk about the latest book he's reading. It's 1920: The Year of the Six Presidents, about Warren Harding, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and the two Roosevelts.

Crist is tailor-made for TV with its seven-second attention span. McCollum has C-SPAN written all over him.

Crist is a populist. (Remember "good riddance" to State Farm?) McCollum is a policy wonk who gives long, nuanced answers.

At the last Cabinet meeting, in a discussion over whether online travel companies like Orbitz and Expedia are pocketing revenue that should go to the state in taxes, Crist lodged his opposition to what he characterized as a new tax (which it is not). McCollum, who has since filed suit against the companies, gave a detailed explanation that was excessively lawyerly, but showed his knowledge of both sides of the issue.

McCollum, 65, has the earnestness of a Boy Scout and the aw-shucks demeanor of a Rotary president. He grew up on a cattle ranch in Brooksville and is a Navy veteran.

He served two decades in Congress, where he was known as a hard-working, studious conservative. Everybody remembers him leading the impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton, but that obscures the work he did on international terrorism, tort reform and other issues.

After two failed Senate races, he was elected attorney general in 2006 and, like Crist, is trying to use that office as a springboard to governor.

It won't be easy: McCollum faces a primary with state Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. And Democrat Alex Sink, the chief financial officer, should be a formidable and well-financed general election opponent.

McCollum is first and foremost a known quantity. He calls himself a unifying figure. "I have the Jeb Bush people, I have the Charlie Crist people, I have the Tom Gallagher people, I have the whatever, and they're all friends," he said.

That also makes him just about anyone's definition of a career politician, and his voting record in Congress, especially on consumer and environmental issues, will be rubbed in his face on the campaign trail.

"I'm happy to defend anything I need to defend," he says. "I'm proud of my record."

He says the three biggest challenges facing Florida are property taxes, property insurance and the fragility of the state's long-term water supply.

"We don't have all the answers," he says. "If they were simple, we would have had them a long time ago. But as governor, I will bring the best and the brightest together in our state, have a conversation about this and build consensus."

The chatter in GOP circles is that McCollum could face difficulty energizing the Republican base, because he is not an inspiring figure like Jeb Bush. Nor does he possess that light-up-the-room ability of a Crist.

McCollum, like an undersized, bespectacled running back, is going to have to dodge all those would-be tacklers and grind out a nomination, and a victory, a few yards at a time.

McCollum and Crist are both Republicans, and that's about where similarities stop 11/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 8:58pm]

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