A New Senate Candidate?
In the last week, there has been much speculation of the entry of additional candidates in the Senate race to defeat Bill Nelson. The most prominent name seriously proffered is that of CFO Jeff Atwater. Why now, and would Jeff be a good choice?
First, let’s look at the race as it exists:
The April 18 Public Policy Polling (PPP) head-to-head sample for the Florida Senate looks like this:
Their January poll of likely primary voters was:
No “other” candidate got more than 3%, including Adam Hasner and Craig Miller, who were still in the race at that time.
As Dick Morris and others have repeatedly told us about the Presidential Race, when an incumbent is below 50% in the polls it bodes ill for them as most undecideds (if the election were to be held shortly) break for the challenger. Undecideds are saying that they prefer someone (anyone) else to the incumbent. The fact that Bill Nelson polls about the same against any of the candidates would support that notion, but 47-48% is close enough to 50 to make Nelson’s re-election a distinct possibility given the current field. It also says that from a general election perspective, none of the Republican candidates have a measurable advantage.
Among the contenders, Connie Mack IV is the clear front runner, given his name recognition (which matters early when few are paying close attention). A 4 term Congressman from Lee County, Connie Mack has a voting record that is reasonably conservative and has respectable scores from those who rate such things. He has a bit of baggage that follows him though, and his campaign style is less than stirring, prompting some who witnessed his recent drive-through of Palm Beach County to say he was “phoning it in”.
George LeMieux is a serious candidate, having served us well as an appointed Senator. He has a conservative message, and his four freedoms agenda (freedom to work, from debt, from foreign dependence and freedom to pursue the American Dream) is a plausible rationale. His many years supporting Charlie Crist continues to dog him though, even though he was prompt to abandon our former Governor when Crist turned his back on the GOP.
Mike McCallister has generated a following among the grassroots, and his previous run for Governor (in which he won 10% against Rick Scott and Bill McCollum) gives him more experience in a state-wide run than the others. His focus on his military record as the major rationale for his candidacy though is not resonating in all sectors. He does give a stirring speech however, and is an impressive debater.
Marielena Stuart and Ron McNeil are also credible candidates, but they are lightly funded. They are both good speakers and have important things to say, but they lack experience and state-wide reach. Mr. McNeil ran for Congress in district 2 last cycle and only achieved 10% (third place) in the Republican Primary. Ms Stuart has not run for public office before. Neither have much support in the polls. They do bring a strong conservative message to the campaign however.
Taken together, conditions would support the entry of additional candidates in the Republican primary. With four months to go, there is plenty of time to launch, particularly if starting with state-wide name recognition and a measure of popular support.
Consequently, the entry of Jeff Atwater would be a positive step. He has proven himself to be an accomplished campaigner on the state level, winning the CFO position with 57%, an 18 point margin over Democrat Loranne Ausley. As CFO, Jeff has led projects that have appeal to conservatives as well as citizens in general, including “Transparency Florida” – making it easier for citizens and watchdog groups to track government spending, and crackdowns on insurance and Medicaid fraud. His periodic emailings to Florida residents have been informative and helpful. Some of his work as Senate President was controversial, especially in the areas of illegal immigration and SunRail, but he was open about his positions and generally made peace with the grassroots since then.
It is hard to say what path the race would take with an Atwater entry, but we suspect he would achieve front runner status quickly, at least for a time. Being a known quantity on the state level would allow him to allocate his resources to drawing a contrast with the Progressive record of Bill Nelson, rather than establishing his candidacy for primary voters.
In this, the year of the “most important election” of our lifetime, it is important to have our “A Team” on the field. I hope we will be hearing from Mr. Atwater shortly.