The Bill McCollum for attorney general rumor had been swirling about Tallahassee for more than a week. Matt Dixon at POLITICO Florida finally chased it down and got McCollum on the record. McCollum may indeed be “thinking about” running for office, as career political animals like him are wont to do. But in the end, he won’t get into the race. Here’s why.
It’s been eight long years since he last tasted the sweet nectar of political power, and McCollum, the thirsty politician that he is, is parched.
Everyone knows his last campaign ended poorly. He was a terrible candidate then, and it’s not clear how he’s gotten any better with age. But with time, memories fade. Some might not remember just how McCollum managed to lose in 2010, but a handful of internet searches will serve up a rich vein of solid political gold that can be mined by the likes of Frank White, Jay Fant, Ashley Moody or Ross Spano to paint him as a flip-flopping career politician. In fact, there’s enough ammunition out there that none of his four would-be primary opponents need to spend a dime on attack ads against him. They could simply direct voters to some of the old, but still extremely effective, ads that Rick Scott ran against him in the 2010 primary.
The political landscape has changed so dramatically over the past eight years that McCollum stands a near-zero chance of winning in a Republican primary. His flip-flopping and indecision on the question of the Arizona immigration law in early 2010 is probably enough to do him in all on its own. We don’t need to dive any deeper (but we will), because there is no more effective issue to use against McCollum in a GOP primary.
While the immigration question all by itself gave Scott’s insurgent campaign the momentum that propelled him into the lead, McCollum’s terrible handling of it resulted in an equally damaging, self-inflicted wound that deftly underscored one of Scott’s secondary narratives: McCollum as the wishy-washy, flip-flopping career politician who lacks the courage of his convictions.
It’s worth noting that Dixon’s story today didn’t do McCollum any favors. If anything, it probably slammed the door on any notion of running again. According to one GOP consultant quoted in the story, few are taking McCollum seriously:
He’s been mulling the idea of running for attorney general for roughly the past month, a process that has included calling old political allies and donors, according to those familiar with the process.
Those familiar with the conversations say that McCollum has had feelers out, but has not yet gathered real momentum.
“Always considered it a trial balloon that didn’t have lift,” said one GOP consultant, who recalled the nature of some of the calls.
Another run at statewide office might be a longshot, but were McCollum to actually get into the A.G. race, the immigration question, as effective as it is, might not even be necessary. That’s because McCollum can quickly, easily and inexpensively be labeled a career politician by his opponents. That is not the sort of label that bodes well for candidates of any party. And there’s literally nothing McCollum could do to counter it. What can he say? That he’s served his sentence in the private sector as a lobbyist?
He’d do less damage if he just punched himself in the face. Repeatedly.
One of the more effective attacks against McCollum in 2010 hurt him badly with gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters. And in a way only Bill McCollum could manage, the wound was, again, totally self-inflicted. While responding to a litmus-test question from a skeptical gun owner about McCollum’s personal convictions, McCollum was asked if he held a concealed weapons permit. He admitted he didn’t, but in an effort to bolster his standing in the eyes of that pro-gun voter, he confided to the man that he once owned a shotgun but it got stolen.
It didn’t play well among pro-gun bloggers back in 2010:
McCollum doesn’t have a concealed weapons license but noted he’s a quail hunter and owned a shotgun before it was stolen “a while ago.”
Oh really? Although McCollum is an ex-Navy man, and must know his way around firearms, I challenge McCollum to produce the invoice for the gun, evidence of a FBI background check, a police report on the stolen weapon, or an explanation why he didn’t report the theft to the local police (as required by the law he’s sworn to uphold).
One can only imagine how much fun could be had with this story in this current campaign era where vicious, mocking memes travel so quickly on sites like Facebook. Florida’s top lawman didn’t own a shotgun because it got taken from him by a thief. Could any story make McCollum look more impotent?
For a brief moment in time in 2010, McCollum had a narrow window in which he might become Florida’s governor, but only because few people recognized just how vulnerable he was as a candidate. As pollster Tony Fabrizio once said to a room full of Scott campaign staffers, “McCollum’s support is a mile wide and an inch deep.” The implication was that Florida Republicans were lining up with McCollum only because they hadn’t been presented with any other alternative.
In 2018, there is no shortage of alternatives, and none of them are carrying McCollum’s tattered baggage.