With George LeMieux bowing out of the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Connie Mack -- now an extremely heavy favorite to win the GOP nod -- thanked his former rival for backing him before trying to focus on the Democrats. But other Republicans in the race -- namely, former U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon -- show no signs of following LeMieux to the sidelines.
Despite engaging in some heated exchanges with LeMieux, Mack thanked his former rival after the former U.S. senator announced that he was ending his campaign.
“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 said in a statement on Wednesday after LeMieux ended his campaign earlier in the day. “I welcome and thank George for his decision to support my campaign.”
Mack took aim at Nelson -- but he also went to bat for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Romney endorsed Mack, who has been a longtime supporter of the former Massachusetts governor.
“I urge all the citizens of Florida who want less government, less taxing, less spending and more freedom to now join with us in our campaign to defeat Bill Nelson and to help Mitt Romney defeat Barack Obama,” Mack said. “This election is the most important in our lifetime. Our very freedom, security and prosperity hang in the balance. Bill Nelson and Barack Obama have put our country on the road to Greece. Make no mistake, the people of Florida have had more than enough of these failed ‘Lockstep Liberals.’ Together we will win in November and restore America’s promise and purpose.”
While Mack looks to focus on Nelson and the general election in November, there are signs that those who remain in the Republican primary are not going away anytime soon.
Hours after LeMieux pulled out of the contest, Weldon announced that he won the endorsement of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a staunch conservative during his time in the U.S. Senate. Brownback made a bid for the Republican presidential nomination during the 2008 election cycle. He praised Weldon for his conservatism in a statement on Wednesday.
"Dave will be a conservative hero in the U.S. Senate,” said Brownback. “His expertise, sound principles and strong personal character will make him a uniquely effective advocate for Florida's values and interests."
“It’s truly an honor to have the endorsement of a true conservative like Sam Brownback,” said Weldon. “Sam has been a good friend and we’ve fought many battles for conservatism over the years. Like Sam, I realize our economic prosperity is inextricably linked to strong families. If elected, I will fight for fiscal responsibility and remained engaged on all social issues – because limited government and strong families made this country great.”
Weldon also weighed in on LeMieux dropping out, insisting that he will fight on for the Republican nomination. “What is important here is that Floridians now have a clear choice between two candidates, a moderate and a conservative,” Weldon said. “Connie Mack is the establishment’s hand-picked moderate candidate who will support the status quo – while I am the conservative candidate who will stand up for Florida families and tea partiers who are fed up with the Washington establishment.
“This is not a coronation,” insisted Weldon. “This is an election. And today’s events only amplify the need for a one-on-one debate. My record of balancing the federal budget, reforming the welfare system, creating massive surpluses, standing up for the unborn and traditional marriage will create a clear contrast between Connie and myself. Floridians deserve to see my conservative record versus Connie’s record side-by-side on a debate stage."
With Mack so far refusing to debate the other Republican candidates -- something LeMieux pointed to as one of the reasons he pulled out of the contest -- Weldon’s call will likely fall on deaf ideas, especially as polls show him far behind the congressman.
While Mack has garnered some major endorsements, at least one Florida Republican seems committed to remaining on the sidelines in the Senate contest -- Gov. Rick Scott. The governor did not offer any endorsements but he did encourage the remaining Senate candidates to focus on jobs and the economy.
“I’ve only run once, but it’s a lot of work to run in these races," Scott said following an appearance before the Rotary Club of Tallahassee at the Leon County Civic Center on Wednesday. “And I’m hopeful that the individuals who are still in the race focus on jobs, because that is the biggest issue we have.”
Other candidates in the race include businessman and retired Army officer Mike McCalister, who took more than 10 percent when he ran in the Republican gubernatorial primary back in 2010.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859. Jim Turner contributed to the story.