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Mack touts Rep. Stearns Support, Day After Stearns FBI Investigation Breaks

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SHOT: Wednesday -- News breaks that FBI is investigating U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns for attempting to bribe his primary opponent out of the race.
CHASER: Thursday -- U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack to campaign with Rep. Stearns.

"Sunshine State News has obtained a copy of an exclusive invitation to a Thursday night fundraiser, at which four additional congressmen will publicize their endorsements, including U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala. "

Connie Mack to campaign with U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns
Sunshine State News March 8, 2012

Although none of the Republican candidates looking to defeat Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson commands a monopoly of support, North Florida’s major Republican players seem to agree on one thing: the U.S. Senate race in Florida is a virtual two-way between former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV.

“Certainly they’re the two frontrunners, in terms of name recognition and fundraising,” Bob McClure, the president and CEO of the James Madison Institute, told Sunshine State News.

The polls seem to bear McClure out. RealClearPolitics shows polls averaging Mack polling near 39 percent, with LeMieux trailing behind at 9 percent, and retired U.S. Army Colonel Mike McCalister at 5 percent. Some 42 percent of Republican voters remain undecided.

In the three months since Mack announced his Senate candidacy, he’s amassed a modest but impressive set of prominent endorsements.

To date, five congressmen have endorsed Mack’s bid for the Senate, and so have state Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, and state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. Sunshine State News has obtained a copy of an exclusive invitation to a Thursday night fundraiser, at which four additional congressmen will publicize their endorsements, including U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala.

Mack is viewed by some of his supporters to be a principled conservative who can address the economy and unemployment issues, foremost on the minds of Panhandle and First Coast Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Pensacola, explained to Sunshine State News how his endorsement reflects what he believes to be the concerns of Republican voters living in the Panhandle.

“Northwest Florida traditionally votes more conservative than the rest of Florida," Miller said. "I think Representative Mack’s long history of fiscal conservatism, going back to the state House, gives him the upper hand. Mack has been a consistent free-market conservative and a reliable vote for small business. I think he is talking about the issues that are important to most Floridians.”

LeMieux has also garnered an impressive array of endorsements, including such North Florida political heavyweights as former RPOF Chairman Tom Shade and former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton. LeMieux’s also been endorsed by 26 state legislators including Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, Rep. Clay Ford, R-Gulf Breeze, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Keystone Heights, and Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City. Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and popular conservative radio host Joyce Kaufman have also endorsed the former senator.

On Feb. 21, LeMieux emerged the victor of a straw poll at the annual conference of the Florida Federation of Republican Women in Tallahassee. Although she would not disclose the exact numbers, Tallahassee chapter president Cynthia Henderson confirmed that LeMieux won by “an overwhelming majority” of the votes, and attributed his success to his personal warmth and affability, and to his confronting head-on what McClure calls the “millstone” around LeMieux’s political neck -- his long record of working with Republican apostate former Gov. Charlie Crist.

LeMieux urged attendees to focus on his conservative voting record, and take into consideration that virtually every Republican, including Mack, at some point in their career supported Crist’s political ambitions before the former governor left the GOP to continue his run in the 2010 U.S. Senate race with no party affiliation.

“Congressman Mack has been very involved with the more conservative, ‘tea party’ base of the Republican Party, but Senator LeMieux has also governed pretty conservatively,” McClure said. “North Florida Republicans tend more conservative” than their Central and South Florida counterparts, McClure noted. “Our observation is that the region’s voters have three main concerns on their mind: an overreaching federal government, out-of-control spending levels, and an increasingly socialized health-care system.”

Asked what he believed were the issues most important to his constituents, and North Florida voters generally, Miller was more succinct: “Jobs, jobs, and jobs!”

His words were echoed, verbatim, by Tallahassee activist, philanthropist, and small business owner Peter Boulware. Boulware, a former linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and the Florida State University Seminoles, is a Republican leader who ran for state representative in 2008 but lost by less than half of a percentage point to his Democratic rival, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

“I believe Republican voters in Tallahassee are looking for a candidate who is focused on three things: jobs, jobs, and jobs!” Boulware said. “The candidate that can get that message across will appeal” to Republican voters. “A big issue in the business community is corporate income taxes. The more money businesses can keep, the more competitive they can be, and the more people they can hire. I would like to get more comfortable and familiar with the candidates before I endorse. I am looking for a candidate who is pro-business, socially conservative, and focused on job creation.”