Little-known but fiery U.S. Senate candidate Marielena Stuart earned a surprise victory in a straw poll of Pinellas County Republicans on Monday, wowing the crowd with tea party rhetoric and demonstrating just how volatile the race to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson is two months before the Aug. 14 primary.
“I am very excited,” Stuart said after the announcement. “I am on my way to Washington.”
Straw polls don’t often carry much weight — take Herman Cain’s sizable win during Florida’s Presidency V straw poll in September. But the Pinellas group got it right early on in the 2010 Florida Senate race, choosing Marco Rubio over hometown Gov. Charlie Crist months before Crist left the Republican Party.
Stuart nabbed 110 votes, former Sen. George LeMieux took 69, and frontrunner Rep. Connie Mack -- who didn’t show for the poll -- took 12. Former Rep. Dave Weldon got five votes, and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, who also didn’t attend, got four.
LeMieux was the only candidate who attacked Mack for missing the straw poll.
Mack, the four-term congressman who received a slew of recent endorsements from the GOPestablishment, has declared himself the clear choice to face Nelson but has not fared well in straw polls.
The other candidates are polling in only single digits, but they’re not ready to concede before the primary.
"He won’t come before you because he wants to just be crowned for this election. Well, we’re not going to have a coronation in Florida. We’re going to have an election,” LeMieux said.