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GOP Senate Hopefuls Spar Over Conservative Credentials

May 1, 2012 - 6:00pm

The two leading Republicans looking to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November -- Connie Mack and George LeMieux -- looked on Wednesday to showcase their conservative credentials and tie themselves to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the most popular GOP leaders in Florida.

One of the leading conservatives in the Florida Legislature -- Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala -- announced Wednesday that he is backing former U.S. Sen. LeMieux for the Republican nomination.

Baxley, who led the Christian Coalition of Florida and represents parts of Marion County, stressed LeMieuxs conservative credentials in his endorsement and played up the fact that former presidential candidate Herman Cain announced Friday that he is backing LeMieux.

Today I am proud to join Herman Cain and 31 other state legislators and endorse George LeMieux for U.S. Senate, said Baxley, who served as speaker pro tempore when Rubio was speaker of the Florida House. George is a faithful husband and father, and has a solid pro-life, pro-family, pro-free enterprise, pro-Second Amendment voting record. He is the most competent candidate we have to beat Bill Nelson.

Baxley directed heavy fire to LeMieuxs chief rival for the Republican nomination -- namely U.S. Rep. Mack whose father held the Senate seat for 12 years.

Connie Mack IV is not his father, insisted Baxley. Mack has an abysmal personal financial legacy, attacked Arizona for addressing its illegal immigration problems, and supports embryonic stem-cell research. I served with Connie in the Florida House and love him dearly, but he has performed poorly and is not ready to lead. Nelson will tear Mack apart if he is the Republican nominee. George LeMieux is the only candidate who can defeat Nelson and we must stand with George to take back the Senate in November.

LeMieux was not shy about highlighting Baxleys time in the Florida House leadership under Rubio.

Representative Baxley has an exceptional history of serving Florida and its conservative community, said LeMieux. Dennis did a tremendous job as Senator Rubios speaker pro tempore in the Florida House and I am honored to receive his endorsement in my bid for U.S. Senate. Bill Nelson currently cancels out every vote Senator Rubio casts and it is time to retire Nelson and send a true conservative to Washington.

But the Mack campaign fired back, pointing to an interview LeMieux did on NewsRadio 162 0AM in Pensacola earlier in the week, in which the former senator said he would have backed the Democratic version of the transportation bill, canceling Rubios vote against it. The RESTORE Act, which would ensure that fines from the Gulf oil spill would be used in the region, was added to the bill.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican congressman who represents the Panhandle in Congress, took aim at LeMieuxs comments on Wednesday. Miller, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has endorsed Mack.

I am extremely disappointed that George LeMieux indicated he would have voted for the Senate Democrats version of the transportation bill, said Miller. Although the RESTORE Act is a critical provision for those areas affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Senate version of this bill contains a massive tax increase and redirects $1.4 billion to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, creating a huge federal power grab. The House version of the transportation bill that Rep. Mack and I supported did not contain the tax hikes or land grabs of the Senate bill, yet still supports the affected areas of the Florida coast.

Miller looked to throw some cold water on LeMieuxs conservative credentials.

Floridians need to be careful that we dont replace a big-government Democrat in the Senate with a big-government Republican, Miller said.Connie Mack is the conservative we need in the Senate.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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