The Republican senatorial primary field in Florida may see a latecomer by early July.
Craig Miller, former CEO of Ruth’s Chris steakhouse, told The Daily Caller he is “seriously considering” challenging Democrat Senator Bill Nelson and that he has been “so far very, very encouraged” in meetings with potential supporters and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Miller believes there’s a void in the current field made up of Florida State Senate President Mike Haridopolos, State Rep. Adam Hasner and former Charlie Crist-appointed U.S. Senator George LeMieux.
“There’s no game changer in the race,” Miller told TheDC. “I’m a different candidate than the other people in the race. I’m not a career politician … I’m a business person.”
If he runs, Miller will tout his business experience and track record of creating jobs as his main selling point. And once in the Senate, Miller said, he will make it easier for businesses to hire.
“So many people in Washington think that Washington can create jobs,” said Miller. “Washington can’t create jobs.”
Miller also said that while he would “never support changing programs for people who have paid into them for decades,” he would support changing Medicare for future generations. “We need to modernize programs that are decades old … [we] have to create programs for future generations,” he told TheDC.
And if given the opportunity, would he vote for Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan? “Absolutely,” he said. “We can’t operate the country without a budget. I’ve never operated a business without having a budget. With no other alternative out there,” he added, “I absolutely would vote for the Ryan plan.”
Miller’s only previous political experience is an unsuccessful congressional bid in 2010. The first-time candidate didn’t just lose, though. He came in a dismal third place during the primary. He was hounded during the campaign for his moderate stance on immigration, and even admitted to hiring illegal aliens during one event.
“One of the problems with our immigration policy is, you have to hire someone before you can find out whether or not they’re illegal,” said Miller at the time.
Other than his role at Ruth’s Chris, Miller is the former chairman of the National Restaurant Association and a Florida tourism commissioner under Gov. Jeb Bush.
Florida Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio called Miller an “interesting candidate” that has the “right profile” and comes from the “right geographic area.”
But according to Fabrizio, a Miller candidacy has its drawbacks. “[He] spent a boatload to come in 3rd last year in a congressional primary, so the message he was pushing then and seemingly now was easily trumped,” Fabrizio told TheDC. “And the financial threshold for the senate race is several times higher than what it was in his congressional race. Is he willing to go that far with his own cash? And will he retool his approach to his campaign?”
“Those are key questions,” Fabrizio added.
There’s no doubt Miller could shake up the current field.
Though Haridopolos has scored endorsements from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, he has to overcome past ethics questions and his position against Ryan’s budget and its cuts to Medicare.
Hasner describes himself as the “authentic conservative” and Tea Party candidate, but faces major fundraising hurdles. And many see LeMieux as a tainted candidate because of his ties to former Gov. Charlie Crist.