With less than three months to go until the Republican primary to see who will emerge to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the leading Republicans in the race looked to get their conservative credentials in order -- and question their opponents’ right-of-center bonafides.
On Tuesday U.S. Rep. Connie Mack unveiled the team of conservatives he hopes will propel him to victory in the Aug.14 Republican primary.
Mack’s team includes some of the leading right-of-center figures in the Sunshine State, including former state Sen. Pat Neal, who had been affiliated with the state chapter of the Christian Coalition; Leslie Steele, who had been on former Gov. Jeb Bush’s communications team; social conservative leaders John Giotis, Lois Jones, Warren Lutz and Michael Rodriguez; and Bob Touchston, who served as president of Florida Right-to-Life.
“Connie Mack has been a champion for conservative causes in Washington just as he was as a state legislator,” Neal said on Tuesday. “Mack is the only candidate for U.S. Senate that conservatives can count on to advance a philosophy of limited government based on our constitutional principles.”
Mack’s new team sent out a letter on Tuesday bashing Nelson and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux who is the congressman’s main rival for the Republican nod.
With LeMieux and Mack -- along with businessman and retired Army officer Mike McCalister -- fighting for conservatives, Mack’s new team hammered LeMieux on Tuesday.
“We have been disappointed to learn that George LeMieux is currently spending so much time tearing down Connie Mack and trying to remake himself with conservative rhetoric that is not consistent with his record,” Mack’s supporters wrote in the letter. “George LeMieux has shown support for many socially liberal programs, both before and after he orchestrated Charlie Crist’s election.”
Mack’s supporters looked to portray LeMieux as an “early and vocal supporter of the gay agenda as a candidate for state representative and then while serving as the self-anointed political maestro and chief of staff to Charlie Crist’s failed governorship.”
They also looked to link LeMieux to President Barack Obama. “He orchestrated many liberal initiatives including the Crist-era policy of cap-and-trade and the endorsement of President Obama’s failed stimulus plan,” they wrote. “After Charlie Crist handpicked him to serve in the Senate, George broke ranks with conservatives yet again and voted for President Obama’s failed liberal jobs program – one of only two Republicans to do so. And just recently, LeMieux even sided with Bill Nelson when he attacked Marco Rubio for voting against a version of the RESTORE Act that was chock-full of tax hikes and spending increases.
“LeMieux is in no way a solid conservative and in no way deserves our support,” insisted Mack’s supporters.
Mack’s supporters attempted to contrast LeMieux with their own candidate, noting that the congressman has garnered high scores from several conservative organizations.
“Connie Mack is one of the most conservative and hard-working members in the United States Congress,” Mack’s supporters insisted. “He has received 100 percent ratings from the Christian Coalition of America, the National Right-to-Life, and the Family Research Council. Over the past two years alone, Connie has averaged a 98 percent rating from the American Conservative Union; a 100 percent rating from Americans for Prosperity; and a 95 percent rating from the Club for Growth in 2010, followed by a 98 percent rating from that same organization in 2011.”
Pointing to his record on spending and foreign affairs, the conservative leaders insisted that their candidate was the right choice to challenge Nelson in November.
“Our responsibility as Florida conservatives and Americans is to defeat Bill Nelson and elect a conservative to the United States Senate,” they wrote. “Connie Mack is the right candidate on both counts.”
But LeMieux’s team fired back when a prominent conservative went to bat on Tuesday for the former senator’s bid.
Businessman Herman Cain, best known for his bid for the Republican presidential nomination earlier in the 2012 election cycle, came out swinging at Mack on Tuesday. Cain, who showed surprising strength with GOP activists in the Sunshine State when he won the Republican Party of Florida’s Presidency 5 straw poll in Orlando back in September, endorsed LeMieux earlier in the month.
On Tuesday, Cain took aim at comments Mack made on LeMieux’s support of Cain’s “9-9-9 plan” on tax reform which Mack argued was laying the groundwork for a 16 percent sales tax in Florida.
“It seems as if Representative Mack is engaging in a typical ploy by the status quo when it is threatened by a bold, common-sense solution like throwing out the tax code and replacing it with something fair, simple and transparent,” Cain said on Tuesday. “Mack took a swing, but struck out on understanding real tax reform means tax replacement.
“Let’s start with the most blatant omission by Representative Mack in that under 9-9-9, the entire current tax code goes away,” Cain continued, arguing that his plan ends capital gains taxes, the death tax, the current corporate and personal tax code and closes loopholes. “Either Representative Mack is intentionally misleading his constituents about the benefits of 9-9-9 or he just plain doesn’t get it. Neither excuse is acceptable of a candidate or an elected official. George LeMieux clearly gets it and this is why he has my endorsement.”
LeMieux’s team also continued to question Mack’s ties to the Sunshine State on Tuesday, forwarding a story from the Orlando Sentinel focusing on Mack’s water bill. LeMieux’s team is playing up Mack’s ties to California -- home of his wife, U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack.
Another conservative could be entering the contest soon. Last week former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon opened the door to making a Senate bid.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.