Looking to Knock Bill Nelson off in 2012, GOP Senate Hopefuls Hit Tallahassee

By: Kevin Derby and Jim Turner | Posted: November 3, 2011 3:55 AM

Two of the leading Republican candidates looking to challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson -- restaurant executive Craig Miller and businessman and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister -- came to Tallahassee on Wednesday. But it was a third -- U.S. Rep. Connie Mack -- who came away with a major endorsement.

At the AP’s annual legislative planning session in the Capitol, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, announced he is backing Mack to take on Nelson. Haridopolos said he is returning a favor, as Mack had backed him when Haridopolos was in the primary contest.

“I think he has an outstanding chance to win,” Haridopolos said of Mack. “I’m glad he’s going to elevate the Republican primary debate with positive ideas about lifting people up as opposed to attacking fellow Republicans.”

Haridopolos praised Mack’s “consistent, conservative record on financial issues,” singling out the congressman’s “Penny Plan” which, its backers maintain, will reduce the size and scope of the federal government and balance the budget by 2019.

As for his own future after this 2012 session, when term limits keep him from seeking re-election, Haridopolos said he hasn’t decided. He added that, after the legislative session, helping Mack would be one of his chief political tasks in 2012.

In his speaking time, Miller took aim at “career politicians” and looked to highlight his record in the private sector.

“It’s time to bring in a business perspective, a jobs creator to the U.S. Senate,” said Miller. “I don’t believe we have enough champions of free enterprise in the U.S. Senate.”

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Miller ripped the health-care law signed by President Barack Obama for adding to the national unemployment rate and called for expanding energy exploration and the tourism industry in Florida.

Backing the E-Verify program, Miller called for increased consequences for illegal aliens and streamlining the tourist visa program.

“We need better legal immigration laws and enforce the laws on the books,” he said.

Miller reminded his audience that Nelson first ran for office in 1972.

“Forty years is enough,” said Miller, adding that he thought Mack was another “career politician” in the race who would not impact his bid.

“My message is resonating,” Miller insisted, adding he has logged on average 1,500 miles a week as he has campaigned across the state. He vowed to serve two terms if elected. “I’m not looking for a new career.”

McCalister stressed his conservative credentials and sought to define himself against elected officials in the contest. “I’m a political outsider in this race,” he said.

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Stressing the need to defend intellectual property, McCalister highlighted his record in the military and called for examining American involvement in the U.N. and with NATO. McCalister called for trading repercussions against those nations -- he singled out China and Brazil -- that do not respect intellectual property.

McCalister warned his audience about the danger of “communism” and “radical Islamic aggression.” Asked numerous times by the media in attendance about what he meant about the dangers of communism, McCalister warned about Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia.

McCalister called for readying Florida to deal in the “global marketplace” and called for reforming Social Security and Medicaid while retaining commitments to those currently in the system.

Addressing immigration, McCalister said the border needs to be secured and pointed to reports that found Iran working with Mexican drug cartels. “We have an immigration problem and we need to secure the border,” he said.

Other Republican hopefuls in the race include former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.


Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com. Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com. They both can be reached at (850) 727-0859.

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