George LeMieux is an old hand running political campaigns, but he wound up in the U.S. Senate by ferociously campaigning for just one vote: Gov. Charlie Crist’s.
How LeMieux pulled it off — tapped to serve a vacant Senate seat in 2009 by a governor who had reservations about his former chief of staff — speaks volumes about LeMieux’s ambition, savvy and knack for bare-knuckle politics that’s again playing out as he campaigns to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
"He really wanted to do it. So he was going to do everything he could," former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp said. "He really, really wanted to do it."
Kottkamp had been told he would be picked. Other top contenders included former Secretary of State Jim Smith, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw and Board of Education member Roberto Martinez.
University of North Florida President John Delaney was told he could start looking for a place to live in D.C. The job was his.
But then LeMieux allies created an anonymous website attacking Delaney. It noted that when Delaney was Jacksonville mayor in 2008, he had publicly opposed a property-tax initiative promoted by Crist. The Senate offer was promptly yanked.
It was a tactic repeated again and again as potential picks gained steam.
"I’ve got to salute him. He was playing politics, and the rest of us weren’t," Delaney said of LeMieux. "We were playing by Marquess of Queensbury rules. He got what he wanted."