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Daniel Ruth

Dan Ruth: McCollum for governor? C'mon.

This is just what the Republican Party needs — fresh blood, a young buck, a visionary whippersnapper.

Enter Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, a man never shy about resisting the burdens of charisma, who has proclaimed his desire to succeed Gov. Charlie Crist.

In an announcement that had all the thrilling excitement of a novena, McCollum, who will be 66 come election day next year, launched his gubernatorial bid surrounded by more middle-aged white men than the Gasparilla Krewe.

The aging Howdy Doody of Florida politics has held this strange sway over the state Republicans. For McCollum it is always his "turn" at bat, pursuing nominations for higher office as if it was a matter of sub-tropical Manifest Destiny.

Back in the 2000 U.S. Senate race, Tom Gallagher, an infinitely better candidate with superb retail stump skills, was pressured to step aside by Gov. Jeb Bush and other party leaders to make room for then U.S. Rep. McCollum. At the time, it was felt McCollum had earned the right to run against Bill Nelson based on his leading role in the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

That's not a political campaign. It's awarding a nomination as if it was a Miss Congeniality contest. So McCollum won his party's sash and now Bill Nelson is in his second term as Florida's senior U.S. senator. Say, that was some keen political strategizing.

Now Florida's Republican mandarins are once more lining up like Apollo Creed's entourage in Rocky behind the Urkel of Tallahassee's quest for the governor's mansion.

Just how pulse-challenged is McCollum? His presumptive Democratic opponent is Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also has never been confused with Charo when it came to an effervescent presence on the hustings. Yet, compared to McCollum, Sink is now being touted in some circles as a veritable Margaret Thatcher meets Cher of the 2010 gubernatorial contest.

McCollum has been marketed as a steady, experienced candidate who has been repeatedly tested in the political arena, which is a nice way of saying this chap is extraordinarily skilled at giving concession speeches.

Still, if you are a Republican power broker sitting around the men's grill contemplating your goblet of 300-year-old Glennfidditch, no doubt McCollum's jib might well be to your liking — as jibs go. After all, throughout his political career McCollum has carved out a reputation as a highly partisan conservative Republican true believer.

So it had to leave some of the GOP purists standing behind McCollum choking on their Monte Cristos when the candidate suddenly started singing Kumbaya at his campaign announcement, albeit the Lawrence Welk version.

Doing his best impression of Mr. Rogers, McCollum noted he wanted everyone to be his neighbor, insisting he would reach across party lines and welcome bipartisan access and inclusion.

Of course when, according to several recent polls, only about 23 percent of the body politic regard themselves as Republican, one better give at least lip service to wanting to dance around the maypole with all manner of constituencies, unless one aspires to become less relevant than Katherine Harris.

Considering all the GOP smoking jackets slapping him on the back, McCollum's conversion to diversity did seem a bit odd. After all, when Gov. Charlie Crist starting palling around with less the than ideologically pure such as Democrats and independents, going so far as to heretically appear on a dais with the president of the United States in support of Barack Obama's stimulus package (Oh dear!), he was vilified by the Roundhead wing of the Republican Party as the Lord Haw-Haw of the Tallahassee's Apalachee Parkway.

Indeed, Crist was regarded as such a Republican apostate, when the popular governor announced his own intention to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez, the keepers of the Republican Da Vinci code of conservatism promptly started pimping Jeb Bush's personal hand puppet, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, as a more worthy and dogmatically acceptable alternative.

Apparently news that the Republican gubernatorial primary was supposed to be more of an exclusive affair than a Skull and Bones smoker, didn't find its way to Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, who had been mulling over the race himself and whether Mrs. Bronson would let him go out and play. She didn't, and on Thursday he announced he won't run.

And thus the GOP apparently gets a clear primary pathway for a candidate whose prospects for election are at best problematic, while causing mischief in a Senate campaign where Crist is a virtual lock to win.

Perhaps this is what happens when the Republican brain trust regards 23 percent party identification as a mandate, rather than a product recall.

Dan Ruth: McCollum for governor? C'mon. 05/21/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 22, 2009 8:16pm]

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