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Live blogging the US Sen. race, the CPAC, P5 edition

After languishing in the shadows of the Republican presidential race, the U.S. Senate race just took center stage at Conservative Public Action Conference and the Republican Party of Florida Presidency 5 event this morning.

First up at CPAC: Adam Hasner, the former Republican leader in the Florida House, a post he was given by former House Speaker and current Sen. Marco Rubio, whom Hasner invoked to much applause in the first 30 seconds of his 15 minute speech.

"He called me the most partisan Republican in Tallahassee. He meant it as a compliment. The mainstream media tried to make it an insult. I made it a badge of honor," Hasner said.

Hasner soon took a subtle shot at opponent George LeMieux, the former right hand mand of Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent governor who lost to Rubio last year. Before Obama took the reins of power, Hasner said, "the establishment in the Republican Party was saying the best way for Republicans to beat the Democrats was to be more like them. I didn’t buy into that philosophy."

Hasner,, however, made himself sound like more of an opponent to the establishment and Charlie Crist than he was. As this story of ours shows, Hasner also supported a watered-down climate-change law that the Legislature now wants to repeal. And he voted for a budget with $2.2 billion in tax and fee increases and billions more in federal stimulus money. He also favored high-speed rail and SunRail, which tea party activists came to abhor. Though he privately mocked and fought Crist behind the scenes at times, Hasner also boasted of working with the governor on the federal stimulus program.

Hasner spoke forcefully at CPAC, garnering wild applause for his shots at Obama.

"The Obama administration doesn't have a messaging problem. They have a policy problem. They are waging class warfare," Hasner said, noting he has been a lifelong Republican despite being the son of two liberal Jews from New York.

"Life as a Republican isn’t easy," Hasner said. "Being a pro-life pro-second amendment conservative from Boca Raton hasn’t made it any easier."


Next up, LeMieux, who was appointed to the Senate for a brief period by Crist. He barely mentioned Crist until he came close to the end of his speech. Here's our story on his relationship with Crist.

"When our former governor, my friend, left the Republican Party, the very next day I endorsed Marco Rubio," LeMieux said. Before that time, though, LeMieux was actively involved in undermining Rubio's candidacy and leading the effort to dif up opposition-research on him.

LeMieux urged the crowd to focus on his 16 months in the Senate, where he won plaudits for his pro-gun, anti-abortion, pro-business voting record.

"Talk is cheap. What matters is (a candidate's) record. You shall know them by their works," LeMieux said. "I’m the only candidate in this race who has held office with a conservative voting record... I will not run from my record, I will stand on it...

"I am the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, who has never voted to raise your taxes," he said. He said he never asked for an earmark, but he did support SunRail, an earmark for Florida and never withdrew the earmarks requested by his predecessor.

LeMieux described himself as a father first and, second, was a businessman who runs a law firm, Gunster Yoakley. "I'm not a career politician."

"The problem with government is people who have been in government all their life. We’ve got a careerism problem.... Washington is the most-broken, most-bizarre, most-dysfunctional institution that I’ve ever seen," he said.

"The world’s largest financial body hasn’t had a budget for 850 days. My friends it’s worse than that. We are $14.7 trillion in debt. What’s a trillion? It’s a thousand billion….. Take one dollar bill on the floor -- a billion covers Key West, Florida. Imagine Duval Street with $1 bills on it. Stranger thing have happened in Key West. A trillion covers Rhode Island. Twice.... It’s out of control. It’s unsustainable. It’s immoral and it’s un-American.
Next up: Mike McCalister, the retired former colonel who was all tea party and embarked on long sustained riffs about the threats facing America. His solutions: tax cuts, fewer regulations, renegotiated treaties, a bolstered military and an immigration crackdown where people should learn to speak English first. McCalister, who has embellished his military record on the campaign trail, barely mentioned his service.

A two-minute sample:

"Let’s take a look at the serious threats facing America today. We’re under attack everywhere we look, inside and out. Inside our country, uncontrolled spending by the federal government. Yes, it’s got to stop. But at the same time we all know just because the government cuts spending doesn’t mean companies are going to hire more people. But we’ve got to stop. Union management not accepting the reality of foreign competition. No one’s going to pay more for a product or a service just because it’s made by a union worker. Liberal judges making up their own rules, giving our country away. This failing education system not keeping up with global competition. A federal government ignoring the rights of our citizens and our states, restrictive laws handcuffing the American productivity and American spirit. We still have communism working to destroy our family values and our cohesiveness. Illegal immigration and insecure border. There’s a lot more coming through there than people wanting jobs. You’ve got money laundering, drug trafficking, terrorism. Radical Islamic aggression trying to expand into our schools and our textbooks and our courts. And the growing black market that’s been created for phony credit cards, phony IDs, and even phony voter registrations. And of course the liberals don’t want to acknowledge any of this, or they seem to think that it’s all OK.

"Externally, attacking us everyday: The other 95 percent of the world that doesn’t live here. Unfair trade practices by competitive nations with phony currency devaluations, breaching of patents, the stealing of proprietary technology that gives them an unfair advantage in global competition taking our customers. This is what’s resulting in a lot of our loss of industry and jobs and industrial base. The global proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and technology transfers to states such as Iran and Korea and China. One day, these will be facing us in military applications. The global war on terror -- a radical Islamic expansion around the world with Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbollah. You’ve got Valdimir Putin hanging around in the former Soviet Union with his vision of grandeur for their days of power and glory. The global black market that’s been created on drugs, money-laundering and even black market oil. Cyber-espionage of our secrets they’re trying to break into your bank account or our military or our government. Pirates operating on the open seas. And, of course, the UN initiatives of the one-world government with Agenda 21 wanting to tell you where you’re going to live and going to take away your guns.

"So how are we going to protect ourselves against these?

"My friends, Ronald Reagan had it right. You threaten us, we win. You lose."


Businessman Craig Miller takes the stage at 12:08 p.m. Miller describes himself as a job applicant and immediate contrasts his background in business with the "career politicians" he's up against in the GOP primary.

"They've never woken up in a cold sweat at two in the morning wondering if the checks would even clear the next morning," Miller said.

After the rapid-fire of red meat from McCalister, Miller's more measured approach gives the audience a break from applause.

The former Ruth's Chris CEO tells a boot straps story about his parents, talks about serving in Vietnam and shares with the crowd that he carries a gun.

Miller says he could talk about abortion, foreign policy or energy.

"But I want to tell you about what's important today," Miller said. "What's important to day is that my neighbor and your neighbor has no job. My neighbor and your neighbor has either lost their home or is afraid they're going to lose it."