It's not hard to find policy areas where Republicans Bill McCollum and Gov. Charlie Crist have differences.
Gambling, restoring ex-felons civil rights, abortion, the federal stimulus, energy and others. Attorney General McCollum is considered a conservative policy wonk and Crist 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 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." That's because many Florida Republicans don't consider Crist to be a true conservative.
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Despite the mailer, don't expect McCollum to campaign as a Crist conservative. He's already being cautious about what he says about the current governor. While McCollum will talk about his views, he isn't always forthcoming about his opinions on Crist.
Asked about the fundraising letter and who he is more like, conservative, policy-minded Bush or Crist, and 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 Crist's positions can be a delicate walk.
McCollum was asked whether he would have signed the last 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 also used $5.3 billion in federal stimulus money to plug holes.
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. All of us just have to face reality that as long as we have revenue shortfalls, we're going to wind up seeing more belt tightening," McCollum said.
McCollum was against the federal stimulus package from the start, unlike Crist, who literally hugged President Barack Obama in February at a Fort Myers rally in support of it. McCollum, a former congressman, continues to criticize it.
"It was a very bad thing for the United States and the state of Florida," McCollum said. "It's done more harm than good."
McCollum was elected in 2006, replacing Crist as attorney general when Crist became governor. Crist is leaving after one term to run for Senate.
The economy is the top issue McCollum and his likely Democratic challenger, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, are talking about in the campaign. But McCollum won't talk about whether Crist has done enough to help bring jobs to the state as unemployment has reached 11.5 percent.
"I'm not going down the path of criticizing the current administration. I'm telling you what I would do, what I see that needs to be done. Obviously I feel we need to do more, and we need to do better," said McCollum.
That's one of the reasons why his position on energy policy is different from Crist's. Crist wants a cap-and-trade program to limit carbon dioxide emissions by power plants and require companies to pay whenever they exceed the restrictions on the gases widely suspected of causing global warming.
McCollum said he agrees that more clean energy needs to be developed, but he doesn't want the effort to drive up the cost of energy to the point where it scares off businesses and hurts consumers.
"We have these two competing interests, one of them is our desire, which I strongly support, of moving to alternatives and reducing our carbon footprint. The other one is that we can't and should not be doing it at such great expense," McCollum said. "I'm very much against cap and trade."
When Crist successfully pushed Cabinet members to approve automatic civil rights restorations for most felons, McCollum was the only no vote. He said he's not necessarily opposed to the idea of felons getting rights back once they've served their sentences, but Florida has a high rate of repeat offenders and a waiting period of up to five years is more appropriate.
"Let's find out if they're going to return or not going to return" to prison, he said. "If they're not, I want them to have their civil rights back."
On social issues, McCollum is more firmly against abortion, while Crist says he wants to change hearts and not laws; while both said they supported the gay marriage ban passed by voters last year, Crist told the state Republican Party to stop spending party money to help the effort; and while Crist has aggressively pushed for a deal to allow expanded gambling at Seminole Indian casinos, McCollum fought the agreement in court.
"I have an understanding, I always have had with him since I was elected, that we wouldn't agree on everything and I just simply let him know when I'm not going to," McCollum said, adding that he usually has his office contact Crist's to give them a heads up when McCollum is planning to make a statement Crist won't like.
McCollum, though, wouldn't back off his campaign mailer's comment about Crist's conservative legacy.
"Gov. Crist and I have a lot in common," McCollum said. "We both believe in low taxes, we both believe in creating jobs and growing jobs, which is a very important Republican and conservative principle."
But he doesn't plan to make similarities and differences a talking point during the campaign — at least not directly.
"It's not about Jeb Bush or Charlie Crist," McCollum said. "It's about my children, my grandchildren and yours. It's about how do we put together the leadership to make Florida a better place to live."
While McCollum is avoiding direct comparisons to Crist, other Republicans will.
"Bill McCollum is the more conservative of the two," said Hillsborough County GOP Chairwoman Deborah Cox Roush after a recent fundraiser for McCollum. "I don't consider Charlie Crist to be conservative."
She also answered the question McCollum wouldn't — is he more like Bush or Crist?
"Oh, Jeb Bush," she said without hesitation. "Absolutely."
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