“Bill Nelson and I voted very differently when we served together in Washington. He voted liberal; I voted conservative,” said LeMieux, who was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist to serve the final 16 months of former Republican Sen. Mel Martinez’s term.
LeMieux’s move was largely expected and ensures there will be at least two top-tier Republicans in the race to challenge Nelson, the last Democrat to hold statewide office.
State Senate President Mike Haridopolos launched his campaign earlier in the year, and former state House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, a favorite of grass-roots conservatives, is likely to enter as well.
LeMieux, a former Crist chief of staff, will struggle to distance himself from the former governor who left the GOP and ran a 2010 Senate campaign as an Independent, alienating the Republican base in the process.
There was no mention of Crist in the announcement video. Instead, LeMieux focused solely on the familiar refrain of Washington’s “spending problem.” Democrats are openly hoping for a long, divisive GOP primary, which could weaken the ultimate victor before the general election.
“This primary has ‘train wreck’ written all over it, and the eventual nominee will likely enter the general election wounded, bloodied and out of funds,” said Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.