The Republican Primary for Senate: Early Thoughts in 2012
The World of Politics in Florida and Tampa Bay.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
After last November's spanking of Democrats, Republicans are lining up to take on Florida's senior Senator, Bill Nelson. These folks are hoping that 2012 is the fourth consecutive "wave" election (2006 and 2008 were Democratic wave elections and this year was a Republican one).
This seems unlikely, but it also seems like a reasonable wager to make (of course, Kendrick Meek probably thought that after seeing the carnage inflicted on the GOP in Florida in 2008, running for Senate seemed like a good idea - funny how fast these things can flip on you).
Senate President Mike Haridopolos is so far the only major figure to officially throw his hat in the ring. This is basically the only political office open to him - he's smack dab in Bill Posey's congressional district and Posey isn't giving it up anytime soon. Haridopolos will bring some solid fundraising strength in-state, but is unlikely to have the national connections that his two possible primary opponents will bring and since the last state budgets he presides over are likely to be complete disasters - well, let's just say he'll have some baggage. Mike's plan will have to be to fundraise early and hit up the big Tallahassee players for $2000 checks now - while he still have influence as a sitting Senate president. By the time the 2012 primary comes around, he'll be a lame duck and they won't be as eager to write those checks unless he does the work now to build up a solid lead. It's not easy to make the leap from state senate to the U.S. Senate - you may be well known in the hall of the Capitol in Tallahassee, but no one in Florida, outside of your district has the slightest idea who you are. Plus, starting out one's senate campaign by being found guilty of some fairly egregious ethics violations? Not so good, Mike. And with his low name recognition, those ethics charges may wind up being the first thing most voters ever hear about him.
Congressman Connie Mack IV has been making noises about running for Senate for a while now. He's got his congressional war chest and the experience raising hard, federal contributions that Haridopolos doesn't. He's also got the name. His father was a much liked Senator and the younger Mack won a series of races for the state house and then Congress based on that name. No one has ever accused Rep. Mack of being the brightest bulb in the store, but he'll be able to attract enough of the political talent and raise enough money to be a factor and you'd be foolish to write him off in a primary. He's not the cold-blooded political knife fighter that Haridpolos is, but he's got better name recognition and he knows the game. If he has a weakness, it's that he's not considered the smartest congressman and that both he and his wife, California Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack, have a little bit of a reputation for being liking to party just a bit too much.
Finally, there's soon to be former interim Senator George Lemieux. When Crist appointed him Senator, he got a taste of power and now he wants more. Unfortunately, most of his apparent advantages have the tensile strength of papier-mache. His first strength is that, well, he was Senator for almost two years. But, I am willing to take a bet that most people in Florida still haven't heard of him. Sure, he tried hard. He appeared at every ribbon cutting he could and his press shop was emailing and faxing press releases like there were going out of style. But he still has c--p for name recognition. He's got tons of ties Tallahasse - he knows names of the first born children and marriage anniversaries of every lobbyist and check-cutter in in that town. But... all those ties are tainted (in so far as Republicans are concerned) by their origin: his one0-time close relationship with Charlie Crist. Those GOP'ers who actually know who he is can be divided into two camps: those who don't trust him because he was part of Crist's inner circle and those who don't trust him because he stabbed Crist in the back. Finally, he never could shake off a reputation as a bit of moderate when he was in the Senate (moderation being the kiss of death in Republican primaries). He did his best to come across as fire-breathing reactionary, but it never really worked. It didn't help that the Obama political team kept referring to him as a Republican Senator they could work with. It wasn't quite a hug, but neither is it helpful in a Republican primary to have that meme floating around.
There you have it.
My money, assuming something the dynamics don't significantly change, is on Connie Mack stumbling into the nomination as sort of a middle ground that no one really loves, but who no one dislikes and whose baggage is of less recent vintage than Haridopolos' ethics violations and Lemieux's "Crist factor."