After several days to evaluate the decision of former Congressman Dave Weldon to jump into the US Senate race, I have come to a simple conclusion that his entry helps Connie Mack IV. The loser will be George LeMieux, the political chameleon from Broward County who has attempted to run as far to the right as possible in this election. Despite running to the right of Mack, LeMieux is one of the brighter political operators in the Florida GOP. He would be a formidable general election opponent.
LeMieux has been demonstrated to have a raw political ambition that can be admired in some respects. LeMieux conducted a ruthless campaign to be appointed United States Senator in 2009 and then shamelessly turned his back on his greatest political benefactor Charlie Crist, when the Governor left the Republican party. In this year’s race for the Republican nomination, LeMieux has battled long odds to solidify the backing of many conservative activists, including those from the Tea Party who detest his former mentor, Governor Crist. But now LeMieux faces a challenge that will probably once and for all derail his hopes of returning to the United States Senate.
The late entry of former Congressman Dave Weldon to the US Senate race gives social issues activists a stalking horse and effectively divides the opposition to the GOP establishment choice of Connie Mack. Mack was named this week as the “dumbest speaker in Congress,” a distinction which means little to Florida GOP Primary voters who have never been shy about nominating intellectual lightweights. Mack’s nomination is all but assured by Weldon’s late entry.
The likely scenario sees Weldon will be able to nudge a large number of social conservatives over to his side, while LeMeiux continues to court and receive help from economic conservatives and anti-tax activists. Today, he secured the endorsement of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, the Republican most associated with debt reduction.
The conservative split leaves Mack only needing a plurality of votes to win nomination, which can be likely be achieved based on his fundraising advantage and residual name ID. Additionally, turnout for GOP Primaries tends to higher in Southwest Florida, Mack’s political base (if he actually has a base) than in other portions of the state. Absentee votes from Collier and Lee County as a percentage of GOP Primary votes in the county were higher in the 2004 GOP Senate Primary than in any other part of Florida.
All of this adds up to an advantage for Mack, who of the three leading Republican candidates, is the least likely to give Senator Bill Nelson a real test in November. The one hope for the Lee County based Congressman is that Mitt Romney (who endorsed Mack this past week) wins Florida by 3-5 points and their is some coattail effect. Otherwise, the seat will remain in Democratic hands for another six years.