The battle between the two leading Republican candidates for U.S. Senate -- George LeMieux and Connie Mack -- intensified Thursday as they exchanged attacks, LeMieux's launched on national television.
LeMieux fired away on “The Daily Rundown,” hosted by Chuck Todd on MSNBC.
The former U.S. senator drilled Mack’s attendance in Congress. “This is a guy who doesn’t show up to work,” LeMieux said about Mack, accusing the congressman of having “missed 40 percent of his votes.”
LeMieux also said he had concerns about where Mack’s residency was -- whether in Florida or in California, the home of his wife U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack. “We asked him to clear it up," LeMieux added. “Just release your travel records.”
Asked by Todd about fundraising and support from Republicans, LeMieux insisted he was in solid shape despite Mack getting the endorsement of Mitt Romney, the probable Republican presidential nominee.
“We are financially competing,” LeMieux insisted, before maintaining that Florida voters are waking up to the fact that his opponent is not his father -- former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, who held the seat for two terms. “We’re getting a lot more support in recent weeks as people are getting to know that this Connie Mack is not the father.”
LeMieux told Todd that he could beat Nelson in November and he does not think Mack can.
“I believe that if I am the nominee, I can beat Bill Nelson,” LeMieux said. “If Connie Mack is the nominee, I don’t think he can beat Bill Nelson. It will be a race about character. Connie Mack cannot win a character contest with Bill Nelson.”
LeMieux also looked to distance himself from former Gov. Charlie Crist who appointed him to the Senate back in 2009. LeMieux had been a longtime ally to Crist before then, rising to serve as his chief of staff.
Saying they had taken “different paths," LeMieux insisted to Todd that his ties to Crist, who left the GOP to run for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation in 2010, were not hurting him with Republicans.
“Every Republican in Florida at one time or another supported Charlie Crist," LeMieux told Todd. “We’re all disappointed in the decisions he made.”
The Mack team punched back Thursday afternoon, insisting that LeMieux was closely connected to Crist, helping him attack Marco Rubio, the Republican who went on to win the U.S. Senate contest in 2010.
“Facing dwindling fundraising, a voting record praised by Barack Obama, and seeing Connie Mack earn the support and full endorsement of the next president, Mitt Romney, George LeMieux is losing his grasp,” said David James, a spokesman for Mack. “LeMieux’s meltdown is revealing the real George LeMieux Republicans cannot trust. After all, when Charlie Crist was in trouble, he could go to George LeMieux. On his downward spiral, not even Charlie Crist will take his calls anymore.
“The shoe is now dropping on the real George LeMieux and as the layers peel away, the pattern of undermining conservative values and principles is clear and all that is left is a liberal trial attorney, who legally parses words on the stump, and who can’t let go of the 16 months Charlie Crist gave him,” James continued.
As LeMieux and Mack continue to fire away at each other, former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon continues to leave the door open to running in the Republican primary. Retired Army officer and businessman Mike McCalister, who took more than 10 percent of the vote in the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, is also in the mix.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.