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Shortcut to U.S. Senate runs through Broward

 Eight years ago, the young chairman of the Broward Republican Party appealed to his cohorts to stay out of a divisive petition drive to overturn the county's gay rights law. "GOP UNITY'' read the banner he unfurled as he walked through a hushed crowd, arguing that the petition would distract from the party's true goal -- electing Republicans.

The young party leader was George LeMieux, tapped by Gov. Charlie Crist on Friday to fill Mel Martinez's unfinished Senate term until the governor can win the post himself in the 2010 election.

The shortcut for a Republican who never won elected office to America's most exclusive political club began in the state's Democratic stronghold. The anti-gay petition drive failed, while LeMieux mobilized a turnout befitting a presidential candidate for Gov. Jeb Bush's reelection. Like Crist, he learned a politically calculated lesson that winning -- not ideology -- is what matters.

Full column here.