ORLANDO, Fla. – Attention shifted from the Republican presidential candidates at CPAC and the debate in Florida, Friday, when the state’s U.S. Senate candidates took the main stage to introduce themselves to voters.
Adam Hasner, former leader of the state House, took center stage as the early tea party favorite. Most of the applause during his 15-minute speech came when he invoked his relationship with conservative star Sen. Marco Rubio.
“He called me the most partisan Republican in Tallahassee,” Hasner said to loud applause. “He meant it as a compliment. The mainstream media tried to make it an insult. I made it a badge of honor.”
He then took a subtle jab at LeMeiux, who has been a party fixture in the Sunshine state. “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,” he said.
George LeMieux, former senator and close adviser to former Gov. Charlie Crist, took the stage next. LeMieux labeled himself a proud non-career politician, yet still touted his brief experience in Washington as his chief qualification for going back to Washington.
“I’m the only candidate in this race with a conservative voting record,” said LeMieux, referencing his votes against President Obama’s health care law and his balanced budget proposal.
LeMieux also sought to distance himself from former Gov. Charlie Crist, playing to the tea party crowd.
“When our former Governor, my good friend, left the Republican Party, the very next day I endorsed Marco Rubio,” said LeMieux. “It was the right thing to do and I was proud to do it.”
Craig Miller, former Ruth’s Chris CEO, highlighted his humble beginnings and business experience, opening his speech with “I’m applying for the job.”
“I’ve never cast a vote, but have created over 40,000 jobs,” he added.
Candidate Mike McAllister’s stump speech was a laundry list of grievances against liberals, illegal immigrants and big government. He railed against things like foreign aid for countries that “don’t stand by us,” trying terrorists in civilian courts, and creeping sharia law.
McAllister is also fond of saying Florida is a Tenth Amendment state, and that should be enforced by the Second Amendment.
A front-runner has yet to emerge in the Senate race. While Hasner has racked up a long list of conservative endorsements, polls have varied. The latest Quinnipiac poll had LeMieux at 17 percent and McAllister at 11 percent. Hasner came in third with only 5 percent. The key point, however, is that 58 percent of Republicans are still undecided.