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Senate contender hits rival on airwaves

Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher doesn't mention Rep. Bill McCollum by name, but his first TV ad takes a shot at Washington.

Education Commissioner Tom Gallagher hit the airwaves Thursday with his first campaign commercial in what is likely to be a hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate.

With an obvious dig at Republican U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum, who is his chief opponent for the GOP nomination, Gallagher's commercial begins with a slightly tilted aerial view of Washington, D.C.

"Washington, where they raise their own pay, but cut Medicare for us and special interests come before our interests," an announcer says.

"The culture of Washington is at odds with Florida's values. That is why I am running for the U.S. Senate," Gallagher adds as the camera focuses on him.

The next picture shows Gallagher and Gov. Jeb Bush standing side by side as an announcer notes: "Tom Gallagher is working with Gov. Bush to reform our schools. As a legislator he stood on principle against higher taxes."

With the Irish tune, Simple Gifts, playing in the background, the camera shifts back to Gallagher: "I want to represent Florida's values, fiscal responsibility, caring for those in need, and looking out for the future of our children."

The ad shows a more mature Gallagher with lots of gray hair, a change from his 1998 campaign. The ad began running Thursday in Florida markets where Republicans are dominant.

The winner of the Republican primary is likely to face Democratic Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson and independent candidate Willie Logan in November.

Marty Ryall, the Gallagher campaign manager, said the commercial is not intended to imply that Gallagher has Bush's endorsement since the governor must remain neutral in a primary race. "It just says he is working with Bush for his education plan," Ryall said.

McCollum has also been stressing his own ties to Bush and to retiring U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, the man he and Gallagher want to replace.

A spokesman for Bush said the governor will support the party nominee but won't take sides in the Republican primary.

"He is aware of (the ad)," said communications director Justin Sayfie. "He doesn't believe it is inappropriate, being that he has worked with Gallagher. It also wouldn't be inappropriate for McCollum to use his picture. He has worked with both to serve Floridians."

McCollum campaign manager Bill Coletti said Gallagher's campaign is an attempt "to distort the truth about his record as a tax-and-spend liberal."

Coletti said Gallagher, as a legislator and insurance commissioner, voted to raise his own pay and took campaign contributions from companies he regulated.

Gallagher has maintained a low profile in the race thus far and even sent his campaign aides to a news conference to unveil the new ad.

"He is in Orlando today at the Teacher of the Year awards," Ryall said. "Now that the legislative session is over, you will see a significant increase in campaign activity."

Earlier this week Gallagher announced he has the support of 27 Republican legislators who have endorsed him. The list includes Senate President-to-be John McKay, R-Bradenton, and Sens. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, and Jim King, R-Jacksonville, and Reps. Rudy Bradley, R-St. Petersburg; Chris Hart IV, R-Tampa; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island; Ken Littlefield, R-Zephyrhills; and Sandra Murman, R-Tampa.