THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 21, 2012
Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida
Lacking funds and lagging in the polls, Republican George LeMieux on Wednesday dropped his bid for the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate and urged his party to rally behind his opponent, Congressman Connie Mack.
LeMieux, who served in the U.S. Senate for 15 months, said the time had come to step aside and focus the party's attention on defeating the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, and regain control of the Senate.
But even in urging support for Mack, LeMieux took a swipe at him – noting Mack's refusal to debate was part of what made it necessary to quit. With party leadership firmly in Mack's camp, LeMieux said the climb had become too steep.
"Ahead of us in the polls, the Mack name enjoys widespread recognition that can only be matched with substantial advertising or the opportunity to debate on statewide television," LeMieux said in a statement to supporters. "Advertising, which our finances cannot support, and debates, which my competitor won’t agree to.
"It is not my nature to step aside, but there is a reality to running a statewide race in Florida," he said in a video message thanking backers for their support.
Despite his status as a former U.S. Senator, LeMieux could not get traction in his bid to return to office. His popularity among Republicans never got beyond single digits, according to a series of polls that have chronicled the race up to this point.
LeMieux was also hurt in some Republican circles by his inability to shake his connection to his one-time political patron, former Gov. Charlie Crist, whom LeMieux is credited with getting elected governor and whom he served as chief of staff. Like many other establishment Republicans, LeMieux split with Crist when the former governor left the Republican Party, but he remained tied to the former governor in the minds of many.
It was Crist who appointed LeMieux to temporarily fill the U.S. Senate vacancy left by retiring GOP member Mel Martinez in 2009.
His decision leaves former Congressman Dave Weldon, Mike McCalister, Deon Long, and Marielena Stuart on the ballot for the Republican primary in the race. Nelson has one relatively unknown primary challenger, Glenn Burkett, and voters will also see no party candidates Chris Borgia, and Bill Gaylor on the ballot.
In a Quinnipiac University poll taken in late May, Mack led LeMieux 40 percent to 7 percent. Four in 10 voters were undecided. The lack of support made LeMieux's campaign increasingly irrelevant, as shown by a decision by the Mack campaign ignore the proposed debate.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said despite the fact that he was previously in the Senate, LeMieux's candidacy never took hold, making it difficult to raise money in his race against Mack, who entered the race in October.
"He obviously had not struck a chord with Republicans," Brown told reporters Wednesday. "In the matchups with Bill Nelson, he was a good deal behind. Those would be good reasons why he decided to throw in the towel."
LeMieux's exit clears the way for Mack to focus all his attention on the upcoming race with Nelson, a relatively popular incumbent, according to recent polling.
“We welcome the latest statement from George LeMieux and agree that the internal fight among Republicans would not have been helpful in our shared commitment to defeat Bill Nelson," Mack's campaign said in a statement. "I welcome and thank George for his decision to support my campaign."