Tuesday, 17 April 2012

0 Jeff Atwater ponders run for U.S. Senate

With some Florida Republicans worried about their chances and their candidates in this year's U.S. Senate race, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater says he's reconsidering a previous decision and may enter the Republican primary.

Atwater told a conservative blogger Monday he's responding to a second round of entreaties from supporters who want him to run. He turned down a similar request late last year.

Jeff Atwater ponders run for U.S. Senate

"These are serious-minded people and I share that same concern they hold," he said. "So frankly, yeah, I'm going to consider it."

Atwater couldn't be reached Tuesday to elaborate. Speculation among Republicans is that he could be a force in the race. Atwater is a prolific fundraiser who, unlike any of the current GOP candidates, has won a statewide election.

But hours after the news about Atwater broke, the front-runner in the primary, Rep. Connie Mack IV, of Fort Myers, got a key endorsement — the American Conservative Union and its president, Florida GOP heavyweight Al Cardenas.

Cardenas, a former state party chairman, called Mack "the innovative, conservative leader ready to take on Bill Nelson this fall."

Mack leads the Republican primary field, which includes George LeMieux and Mike McCalister.

The winner will take on Nelson, a two-term Democratic incumbent, in November.

LeMieux's campaign had no comment on Atwater's statements. Mack spokesman David James blamed suggestions of dissatisfaction with Mack on biased news reporting.

"Connie Mack has sent Bill Nelson and his liberal allies, including those in the press, into panic mode," he said. "Republicans know that conservative Connie Mack will defeat liberal Bill Nelson … regardless of what the left wing media wants."

But some Republicans say they aren't happy with the field and want another choice.

"The public reaction has been muted" to the current field, said Sid Dinerstein, Republican Party chairman in Atwater's home county of Palm Beach. "They're all lovely guys, capable and hard-working. But right now, neither side (Democrats or Republicans) has somebody who excites anybody."(Google)

Tallahassee-based political operative Jamie Miller said LeMieux and Mack both face handicaps.

"There's a group of people who are still mad at Charlie Crist" — LeMieux's long-time political patron — "and Connie's negative is everybody's always questioned his intensity, his commitment to the race," Miller said.

When Mack entered the race late last year, it was thought his congressional fundraising connections and his famous name — from his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III, and his baseball magnate great-grandfather — would make him a shoo-in for the nomination and competitive with Nelson.(Yahoo)

Today, Mack's campaign has $1.4 million, compared to $1.2 million for LeMieux, while Nelson has more than six times as much, about $9.5 million.

Initial polls showed Mack running close to Nelson, or even ahead. But a recent Quinnipiac poll showed Nelson with a significant lead.

"It was Mack's race to lose — he had everything going for him, but he couldn't sustain it," said Broward County-based tea party leader Karin Hoffman. "You can only go so far on your family name."

Mack took a hit from news stories about a history of bar fights when he was younger and recent financial troubles.

Sam Rashid, an East Hillsborough County businessman and donor to Republican candidates, has contributed to Mack but said he has "reservations about this whole race."(Bing)

"To take Nelson out, you've got to have a really dynamic candidate" with "a completely pristine past," and he doesn't see one now, he said.

Elected to the state House in 2000, Atwater became Senate president before becoming chief financial officer in 2010.(AOL)

He could have his own problems, however — seeking a new office after only half a term in the CFO's office, and trying to mount a statewide campaign late in the race.


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