BRADENTON — Eight days before the Aug. 24 primary, Florida’s attorney general Bill McCollum says he still doesn’t really know his Republican gubernatorial competitor, newcomer Rick Scott.
“It’s the strangest race,” a spirited McCollum said when his campaign bus tour rolled into Manatee County for a rally Sunday. “The first time I met him was just before our recent debates. We’ve never just sat down to chat. He just came out of the box swinging.”
With all the sparring the two have done recently, McCollum and Scott are neck and neck in the polls, with both camps claiming small leads as of Sunday.
But these personal attacks back and forth are not the way McCollum wanted the race to go, he said moments after greeting 60 enthusiastic, sign-waving supporters, including Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, for an hour at Popi’s Place 1, 818 17th Ave. W., Bradenton.
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McCollum said he would have preferred a race that centered just on jobs, education, transportation, immigration and law enforcement, but it never went that way.
Scott has attacked McCollum as a career politician in TV ads that McCollum refers to as “glossy.”
McCollum has fought back by attacking Scott’s record as chief executive officer of Columbia HCA, which was involved in a Medicare fraud scandal, resulting in a $1.7 billion fine.
McCollum points out that the $300 million in stock options Scott received when he left Columbia HCA helped bolster his personal income which has financed nearly all of his race for governor.
McCollum also said Sunday that the biggest issue in the race is now Scott’s refusal to discuss a recent video deposition he gave in a lawsuit against a chain of urgent care clinics Scott co-founded.
“If he has nothing to hide, why not make the deposition public?” McCollum asked. “Maybe there is nothing there. But it appears there is a pattern here.”
During a recent news conference after he continued to refuse to release the deposition, Scott called McCollum, “the Tonya Harding of Florida politics,” The Miami Herald reported.
The comment was a reference to figure skater Harding, who was part of a scheme to injure fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan.
After the Bradenton rally, where he posed for pictures and answered questions from residents, McCollum took a seat on the bus next to Ingrid, his wife of nearly 39 years.
“My opponent has slick ads and questions on his record while I have an open record,” McCollum said. “He’s ducking the press. He’s refusing to do statewide debates. I want to debate.”
McCollum said he really would like to know why Scott is running.
“I don’t believe he understands Florida,” McCollum said. “He doesn’t want to reveal that he lacks experience.
“My opponent says we need to take Florida’s budget back to the 2004 level,” McCollum continued. “That would leave us with a $17 billion shortfall. He says we could cut $1 billion a year from the state prison system. The state prison’s annual budget is $2.4 billion. Cutting $1 billion would mean we would have to put some of our 100,000 state prison inmates on the street.”
Although Scott wasn’t at the rally to defend himself, Bradenton’s Craig and Karen Bachler and their family were.
“Rick is funding his own campaign, but Rick has no special interest groups to answer to,” said Craig Bachler, Scott’s Manatee County campaign director. “While it is true that Columbia HCA was fined $1.7 billion when Rick was there, being a CEO it’s impossible to know what everyone is doing. He had 212,000 employees.”
Bachler believes Scott is a “real person.”
“He touched us,” Bachler said. “I believe him. I trust him.”