MIAMI — In his first major speech as the Republican front-runner for governor, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum sought to link his likely Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, with the ''socialism'' advocated by President Barack Obama.
McCollum told about 400 people at the Miami-Dade Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day dinner that his administration would be ''open to all ideas'' but added that there were important distinctions between the two parties. The current administration is ''nationalizing'' the private sector, he said, and driving up the federal deficit.
''Their candidate for governor, their leadership team in the state, will be the leadership team not just of the individual who is running, but of the national party,'' McCollum said. "Do you believe we want to take a chance in electing somebody who is going to be affiliated with and associated with that kind of thought process?''
Though the 2010 general election is nearly 17 months away, the annual gathering in Florida's biggest county is a pivotal testing ground for statewide candidates. A strong showing can kick start fundraising and buzz, while a flat performance can leave a bad first impression.
McCollum delivered a disjointed though spirited speech. He told the heavily Cuban-American crowd that President Barack Obama ''had no business'' making overtures to the communist regime.
In an interview before his speech, McCollum said he would not have campaigned with Obama for his economic spending plan as Gov. Charlie Crist did in Fort Myers in February. ''I have a different view about that,'' he said, but once the legislation passed, "we needed to get our fair share.''
He added, ''I would not have embraced the stimulus before the fact, but if it passed over my objections, that's another story."
McCollum, who served two decades in Congress before becoming attorney general in 2006, has appeared at countless party functions around the state. But this was his first time on stage as the front-runner for the highest-profile office in Florida.
''He's been preparing his entire life for this opportunity,'' former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami said.
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