Down in the polls and running out of time and money, Bill McCollum desperately needed a game-changing moment in Monday's debate with his rival for governor, Rick Scott.
It never came, though McCollum delivered a steadier performance in the first of only two matchups between the leading Republican candidates.
Referring to the stock Scott received when was ousted as chief executive officer of Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare scandal, McCollum said, "Rick, let's get serious. You said you took responsibility, but the only thing you took was $300 million. You took it from seniors, you took it from veterans, you took it from the sick."
It was a zinger but not a knockout, especially considering the limited audience for a debate that will be broadcast only in Spanish at 11:15 p.m. on Univisión stations in Miami, Orlando and Tampa. It will also air on WQBA-1140 AM.
Scott did not commit any major gaffes, though he stumbled a bit and awkwardly suggested that he had embraced the Hispanic community by learning to drink cortaditos and eat late dinners. Not bad for a guy who has never participated in a debate in his life.
In contrast, McCollum served in Congress for two decades before he was elected state attorney general in 2006. He ran twice unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
"This is what a career politician does," Scott said, referring to McCollum's attacks. "My opponent is desperate. He doesn't worry about the facts."
McCollum may have only one more chance to try to upstage Scott in person, at a debate Thursday on WTVT-13 in Tampa. Scott balked at a chance for a live debate Aug. 11 that would have aired statewide. Leadership Florida and the Florida Press Association are planning to host the debate anyway to try to pressure Scott to participate.
After pouring roughly $28 million — most of it his own — into a statewide media blitz, Scott has barreled ahead in the polls. McCollum and anti-Scott political committees have spent about $9 million.
A federal appeals court dealt McCollum a potentially life-threatening blow last week, ruling that he is not entitled to public matching funds to offset Scott's free-wheeling spending in the homestretch of the campaign. Scott has argued that compensating his opponent if he spends more than $24.9 million amounts to curtailing his free speech.
Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.