Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.
The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.
But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.
It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.
And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.
It costs too much money, too much political capital and too much time for risk-averse FL CFO Jeff Atwater to run for U.S. Senate (told yall this was not likely to happen, remember?). He announced today on Facebook that he wouldn't enter the race. It takes a pickaxe to get to the point in his statement:
"Only slightly a year into this role I continue to feel blessed to be serving as your financial watchdog of government spending and I see so many more ways that I can serve you in this present capacity. As much as Carole and I are humbled by your calls, notes and messages to enter the US Senate race and carry our banner into the fight we believe we have a responsibility to finish the job Floridians elected us to do."
That means the GOP primary is Mack's to lose. George LeMieux is struggling mightily.
Here's the whole thing:
Friends, for asking and encouraging us to run as your candidate for the US Senate, thank you. Together we share an inspired vision for the future of America that is rooted in the founding documents of our country. Conservative principles of limited government that honors the talent, hard work and sacrifice of every American to pursue their dreams and create a purposeful life for themselves and their family. We also share a deep concern over the direction of our country and with those who believe that more taxes, more spending and more debt to fund bigger, intrusive and centralized government to plan and pamper our lives is destroying the American Character. We must fight for the future of our country. The time is now and the battleground is Florida.
Carole and I and our entire family traveled with you across Florida for sixteen months to ask for and receive your confidence and the high honor of serving as your Chief Financial Officer. For just over a year now we have been at the task of reducing your taxes, reducing your debt and creating an environment for Floridians to succeed on the paths they have chosen. Only slightly a year into this role I continue to feel blessed to be serving as your financial watchdog of government spending and I see so many more ways that I can serve you in this present capacity. As much as Carole and I are humbled by your calls, notes and messages to enter the US Senate race and carry our banner into the fight we believe we have a responsibility to finish the job Floridians elected us to do.
I promise you this, I will be with you and I will work at your side between now and November to see that Florida elects a United States Senator committed to our founding principles of freedom and liberty which has produced a prosperity never before achieved on this planet and which has inspired people across the globe. Let us press onward and see that Florida does it's part to preserve and advance this exceptional Constitutional Republic in the spirit of what Abraham Lincoln knew to be, "the last best hope on earth." Jeff
Six years ago, George LeMieux was the "Ask George" maestro of Attorney General Charlie Crist's powerful gubernatorial campaign and helped mastermind a high-profile "just drop out" letter to then-opponent and state CFO Tom Gallagher.
Today, the tables were turned on LeMieux.
A delegation of high-profile Connie Mack supporters and Republican money men asked LeMieux to quit. Cmpaign stunt? Sure. Somethings never go out of style. When we asked LeMieux about his campaign this week, he said he was staying in for the long haul.
In a series of one-two-three blows, George LeMieux's Senate campaign has been staggered by anemic fundraising, the specter of a big-name Republican jumping into the race and new court documents that make him a witness in the criminal case against the former governor’s hand-picked Republican Party of Florida chairman.
Now some are wondering how long LeMieux’s campaign will last.
LeMieux knows he's struggling against fellow Congressman Connie Mack of Fort Myers.
“Do I have an uphill climb? Sure I do,” LeMieux said. “I’m not the frontrunner in this race. I’m the underdog. Connie Mack the Fourth is the establishment candidate.”
LeMieux’s campaign got even tougher this week when Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he was considering entering the Republican race to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.
As a statewide office-holder and solid-fundraiser, Atwater would pose an immediate threat to Mack’s top-dog status and would further threaten the viability of LeMieux’s candidacy.
Mack, the namesake of a former Senator and baseball player, raised nearly three-times the money last quarter as LeMieux, who reported Friday taking in just $305,000.
The day he reported his fundraising numbers, LeMieux was dealt another setback when he was mentioned in connection with the fraud case against former RPOF Chairman Jim Greer. Greer is accused of defrauding the party for allegedly setting up a dummy company and funneling some of the party’s fundraising proceeds to himself.
Greer says he’s innocent, and that the fundraising work he did saved the party money and was legitimate.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/17/2754273/george-lemieuxs-senate-campaign.html#storylink=cpy
Congressman Connie Mack, whose Senate campaign has lost luster in the eyes of some Republicans, is scheduled to get a big endorsement Tuesday from the American Conservative Union, the nation's largest grassroots group, the Associated Press Reports.
The endorsement comes none too soon for Mack, who is favored by FreedomWorks but has failed to inspire a show of support from the Club for Growth. State CFO Jeff Atwater is mulling whether to enter the race, but an ACU endorsement will probably give him pause.
It started as a few shaking heads, some whispers, a sense of disappointment in the Republican U.S. Senate race. Now the feeling that Congressman Connie Mack might not be what Republicans need is leading to a draft-CFO-Jeff-Atwater campaign.
The Shark Tank reports that Sen. Marco Rubio's former finance chair, Nancy McGowan, and Indian River Tea Party Chairman Toby Hill want Atwater to run for the seat.
"I think I have a responsibility to sit back, to these people that I respect greatly, who are serious-minded conservatives of this great state, to take a hard look at it..I think I have to," Atwater told The Shark Tank.
It's no easy task running for a federal seat if you've been a statewide candidate (it's harder to raise non-corporate dollars). But unlike Mack or Republican George LeMieux, Atwater has actually been on a statewide ballot.
In fact, he received more votes than any Republican in 2010 (more than Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi or Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Atwater, a former Florida Senate President as well, hails from one of the hotbeds for Republican political finance, Palm Beach County. And unlike Mack, the current frontrunner, Atwater has a more experienced Florida team that's better plugged into the state Republican Party.
Still, Atwater has a major weakness: His 2009 vote in the state Legislature to take Obama stimulus money and raise $2.2 billion worth of taxes and fees. Tax-raising is a killer in a GOP primary, let alone a general election. Also, Atwater's a banker. He's cautious by trade, if not by nature. Chances are, and this is a guess on my part, he doesn't do it.
Regardless, it's a warning shot to Mack and LeMieux.
**Update, Mack's campaign comments on Atwater and the "left-wing media:"
"Connie Mack has sent Bill Nelson and his liberal allies, including those in the press, into panic mode and it won't work. Republicans know that conservative Connie Mack will defeat liberal Bill Nelson and Mitt Romney will defeat Nelson's chief ally Barack Obama, regardless of what the left wing media wants."
Harry Sargeant III, former finance chair for the Florida Republican of Party says he and other party officials knew all about it when former GOP chairman Jim Greer and the party's executive director took over fundraising operations.
The accusations aim at the heart of a statewide grand jury indictment accusing Greer of grand theft of more than $100,000 from the party by diverting money to Victory Strategies, a company created to handle fundraising duties for the party. The criminal charges allege that Greer diverted the money without the knowledge or consent of party officials.
Damon Chase, a Lake Mary lawyer who represents Greer, said state prosecutors should dismiss the charges against the former chairman.
"They simply cannot, and should not, continue to put him through this hell,'' Chase said.
In an affidavit Chase released Friday, Sargeant said Greer was "frustrated and concerned'' over the way party fundraising was being handled by Meredith O'Rourke, a longtime fundraiser who was being paid as much as $30,000 a month to raise funds for party operations.
In late 2008 Greer terminated her contract with the party and helped create Victory Strategies, a corporation he and the party's executive director, Delmar Johnson jointly owned.
Sargeant said he, Gov. Charlie Crist and George LeMieux, the governor's former chief of staff, had several discussions about the situation and determined in January 2009 that Greer should terminate the contract with O'Rourke and take over fundraising responsibilities with Johnson.
"As finance chairman and a major donor to the RPOF, I did not consider it inappropriate for Greer and or Mr. Johnson to receive additional compensation for assuming additional fundraising responsibilities, and in fact believed it would be more efficient and beneficial to the RPOF,'' the affidavit notes.Connie Mack won't spend much time during the campaign reminding people that he was an early Charlie Crist supporter in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, but his campaign is happy to see more uncomfortable questions surface about what George LeMieux knew about former GOP chairman Jim Greer's "secret" fundraising contract and when LeMieux knew it.
From Mack Campaign manager Jeff Cohen:"I wish I could say most people were flabbergasted this afternoon to read news articles alleging that George LeMieux, in his capacity as Chief of Staff to former Governor Charlie Crist, was at the epicenter of the Jim Greer finance scandal. But I doubt they were.
"So perhaps George LeMieux will come clean once and for all and answer the most basic questions of this scandal -- What did George LeMieux and Charlie Crist really know about the Jim Greer scandal, and what did they really do? The people of Florida anxiously await the truth."
From the Connie Mack campign on George LeMieux's fundraising:
"George LeMieux continues to raise less and less with each passing quarter, while Connie Mack raises more and more. George LeMieux's weak fundraising performance is because his lackluster campaign of desperation has turned off supporters and, according to the latest Rasmussen poll, his negatives are three times higher than his positives.
"George LeMieux is proving there are fewer and fewer Charlie Crist supporters, and his own figures show he is spending almost everything he is raising in real time.
"Having raised barely over $300,000, one has to wonder how he managed that feat and how many cousins or law partners he has left to ask for a contribution."
From a press release:
Fort Lauderdale, Fla. – George LeMieux today released his fundraising totals for the first quarter, reporting $1.2 million cash on hand, over $2 million raised to date, and $305,752 raised in the first three months of 2012.
“Cash on hand is what matters most and LeMieux and Mack the Fourth are neck in neck,” said Brian Seitchik, LeMieux campaign manager. “When Floridians’ attention turns to the Senate Primary, we will have the resources necessary to educate voters on George’s strong fiscal record contrasted with Connie Mack the Fourth’s history of earmarks, raising the debt ceiling, and increasing his own Congressional salary.”
This announcement follows LeMieux winning three consecutive straw polls in landslide victories over Mack who came in dead last every time and continuous key endorsements from Republicans throughout Florida, including 31 sitting state legislators, former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Tom Slade, and former Mayors Rich Crotty and John Peyton.
To: Key Connie Mack Supporters
From: Jeff Cohen Campaign Manager
Re: Q1 2012 Senate Campaign Review and Update
Date: April 5, 2012
With a successful first quarter behind us, I wanted to take a moment to update you on a number of fronts regarding Connie’s campaign for the U.S. Senate and our continued success and momentum