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Bill McCollum’s possible Senate run: third time the charm?

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With a shrinking Republican bench for Marco Rubio’s open seat, one big-name Floridian — Bill McCollum – is considering a third shot at the U.S. Senate.

If he chooses a run in 2016, McCollum will make history, not only as the second Floridian to attempt a Senate run after two unsuccessful campaigns, but also by becoming the oldest newly elected senator — by more than a decade — in Florida history.

Smart Politics puts McCollum’s possible campaign in context, including his advanced age.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, and U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney and Daniel Webster have each announced they will not be running for the Senate.

Of those remaining, a new Mason-Dixon poll finds McCollum, the ex-U.S. representative and Florida attorney general, with more than twice the support (20 percent) of other would-be contenders: U.S. Reps. David Jolly (with eight percent) and Vern Buchanan (with seven percent).

McCollum has already run for Senate twice – and failed both times. In 2000, he ran as the 10-term U.S. representative incumbent, losing an open seat to Bill Nelson by 4.9 points. Four years later, in 2004, he lost the GOP primary to Mel Martinez.

Over the 36 general and special U.S. Senate elections in Florida since 1914, 14 losing candidates were attempting their second run at the chamber, a list that includes McCollum, who ran in 2000 and 2004.

Only were successful: a special election in 1936 for Democrat Claude Pepper, coming two years after losing a primary to Park Trammell; and in 1980, when Republican Paula Hawkins won an open seat after losing the primary to Jack Eckerd in 1974.

For one Florida politician, the third time was the charm. Democrat Bill Gunter won the U.S. Senate seat in his third campaign, after losing to Richard Stone in a 1974 primary runoff, to Paula Hawkins in the 1980 general election, and a runoff to Buddy MacKay in the 1988 primary.

If successful, McCollum would become a senator in January 2017, aged 72 years, 5 months, 23 days, beating the record for the oldest newly elected or appointed U.S. senator in Florida history.

Smart Politics notes that Republican Abijah Gilbert (serving 1869-1875) and Democrat William Hill (serving 1936-1936) were each 62 years, 8 months, 15 days old when they became senators, more than a decade younger than McCollum.

However, McCollum’s 12-year gap between his last campaign (2004) and a 2016 effort would not be a record in Florida. David Higginbottom had 26 years between Senate campaigns — 1974 to 2000. Gov. Claude Kirk waited 24 years — 1964 to 1988 – and Florida Hotel Commissioner Jerry Carter saw 14 years pass between campaigns — 1926 to 1940.

Dr. Eric Ostermeier is the lead author of Smart Politics, a nonpartisan political news site from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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