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SPOT CHECK

Editor's note: To help voters evaluate political ads, Times reporters will review and analyze content.

OFFICE: U.S. Senate

CANDIDATE: Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, Democrat

OPPONENT: U.S. Rep. Bill McCollum of Longwood, Republican

PRODUCER OF AD: Shrum Devine & Donilon.

RUNS: Tampa Bay and West Palm Beach.

THE AD: With Nelson himself narrating over feel-good background music, the one-minute spot shows Nelson walking on the beach, talking to students and to constituents. It flashes pictures of Nelson as a child, Army captain and congressman. It also shows a space shuttle launch and superimposed newspaper headlines about Nelson fighting for lower insurance rates.

"Growing up in Florida, I lost my father at a very early age. I had to shoulder a lot of responsibility. You've got to set your sights on a goal to try to achieve that goal, and if you miss it, pick yourself up and start again.

"How many of you would like to fly in space? Let me tell you about it," Nelson is shown telling classroom students.

". . . I have stood up and fought for the consumer in stopping the insurance companies from raising rates too high. We ought to be investing in better training for teachers, smaller class sizes and safe classrooms. I support a guaranteed prescription drug benefit for Medicare. I think we ought to use the budget surplus to pay down the national debt and use those savings to financially secure Social Security.

"If there's one thing I've learned as insurance commissioner, it's that you've got to stand up and fight. I'd like to be that strong voice, that strong advocate, in Washington. For all Floridians."

ANALYSIS: Nelson's first television spot is a feel-good introduction to Florida voters, who mostly have a vague sense of their insurance commissioner. It never mentions his opponent, and portrays Nelson as a courageous (he went to space!) fighter for consumers. With McCollum repeatedly suggesting Nelson lacks principles, the ad paints the candidate as a man of strong character, overcoming the loss of his father as a child.

The ad artfully describes Nelson's record fighting against insurance rates rising "too high." It's true he challenged rate increases, but, mostly under his watch, homeowners' rates and deductibles nonetheless rose significantly. Many coastal homeowners struggle to find affordable coverage. Hurricane Andrew, which hit Florida 27 months before Nelson took office, had a lot to do with the troubles in Florida's insurance market.

_ ADAM C. SMITH

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