TALLAHASSEE — Bill McCollum, seeking to regain his mantle as the only tried-and-true conservative Republican running for governor, got some bad news Tuesday when the National Rifle Association gave his rival, Rick Scott, a higher ranking.
Scott got an A and McCollum a B according to the NRA's grading system. The grades came after what NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer called a "lengthy and thorough" analysis of candidates' records, statements and responses to a questionnaire.
Neither man won the influential gun-rights group's outright endorsement, which amounts to good news for McCollum, the state attorney general. An endorsement might have come with paid advertising to amplify the NRA decision.
But Scott got bragging rights, no small feat in a statewide Republican primary where gun rights is an important test of conservatism, particularly in North and Central Florida.
Hammer said McCollum, while serving in Congress, cast a number of antigun votes, including for the Brady Bill on final passage and against an amendment that would have allowed District of Columbia residents to keep guns in their homes.
"Some folks say they will and don't and some folks say they won't and do. McCollum has done some of both," said Hammer. "You can't unring a bell. Bad votes don't go away."
McCollum's campaign says the NRA was wrong about his vote on the Brady Bill, and provided documentation of his "no" vote.
Under the NRA's grading formula, an A means a candidate is "solidly progun," and a B means a candidate is "generally progun." The rankings can be found at www.nrapvf.org.
Asked about the NRA's decision during a campaign stop in Brandon on Tuesday, McCollum said he was surprised because he has a history of backing gun rights and Scott has no record at all. The McCollum campaign quickly released a prepared statement Tuesday on the issue.
"As Florida's attorney general," the news release said, McCollum "has fought to protect an individual's right to bear arms in the face of overly oppressive gun control laws, such as filing an amicus brief in the case of the NRA vs. Chicago asking for the court to overturn a city ordinance that prevented the ownership of a handgun in one's own home."
Even though Scott has never held office and has no record on gun issues, Hammer said he scored points as an NRA member and gun owner who, according to a profile of Scott in Florida Trend in May, kept two books in the lobby of his office that support the Second Amendment.
"He's a gun owner. He believes in the Second Amendment. That's all very clear," Hammer said of Scott.
McCollum said he did not belong to the NRA. He has been an avid hunter and used to own a gun, but it was stolen, he said.
Alex Sink, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, got an F grade from the NRA.
Times staff writer Sarah Hutchins and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.