Would-Be GOP Successor to Crist Keeps His Distance; Floridians' Views, Styles Differ

Article excerpt

Byline: Brendan Farrington, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's not hard to find policy areas where fellow Florida Republicans Bill McCollum and Charlie Crist have differences.

Gambling, restoring ex-felons' voting rights, abortion, the federal economic stimulus, energy and other issues. Mr. McCollum, the state's attorney general, is considered a conservative policy wonk, and Mr. Crist, the governor and Senate hopeful, is a populist who prefers to think in general terms while leaving the details to staff.

So it was a just a little bit odd recently when Mr. McCollum mailed a fundraising letter in which he said if elected governor he wants to be a leader who will carry on the conservative legacy of Governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush. Many Florida Republicans don't consider Mr. Crist to be a true conservative.

Despite the mailer, don't expect Mr. McCollum to campaign as a Crist conservative. He's already being cautious about what he says about the current governor. While Mr. McCollum will talk about his views, he isn't always forthcoming about his opinions on Mr. Crist.

Asked about the fundraising letter and who he is more like - conservative, policy-minded Mr. Bush or Mr. Crist - Mr. McCollum replied, I'm not going there.

More and more you're going to simply see us talking about Bill McCollum - not with any disrespect to either of the two of them, but this campaign is about where we go in the future, not in the past, he said.

Expressing his own views while creating space between some of Mr. Crist's positions can be a delicate walk.

Mr. McCollum was asked whether he would have signed the latest state budget, which included more than $2.2 billion in new taxes and fees, and he said, I don't have to face that issue today. The $66.5 billion budget also used $5.3 billion in federal economic stimulus money to plug funding holes.

Mr. McCollum quickly added that he'd have to face a similar problem in 2011 - a $4 billion to $5 billion budget hole once stimulus dollars are gone - and he didn't sound like someone who would ask Floridians or the federal government to help fill the void.

It's the worst time in the world to be raising taxes. …