“I proudly produced TV ads criticizing Charlie Crist for his numerous liberal positions. If I thought that George LeMieux was like Charlie Crist, I wouldn’t be working with him,” Lerner told me.
“I spoke to conservative Senators about him and they heartily sang his praises,” continued Lerner, noting that LeMieux “opposed earmarks before it was cool.”
The problem for LeMieux is that Haridopolos and Hasner will run hard to LeMieux’s right and will seek to demonize the one-time appointed Senator as merely a protégé of Crist. And in a Florida primary dominated by the most conservative, anti-Crist voters, that is a problem for LeMieux.
Haridopolos, 41, is a former community college instructor who was first elected to the Florida House in 2000. Two years later, he was elected to the state Senate, and he was sworn in as Senate President last November. His district is located along the east coast of central Florida.
But Haridopolos has had a number of ethics problems, and he has recently been battered in the media for accepting $152,000 from Brevard Community College for a 175-page book that took him four years to write. (Only one copy of the “book” was printed.)
Given recent ethics and legal problems that have dogged some in the GOP, including former state party Chairman Jim Greer, a close ally of Crist, observers believe Haridopolos’ baggage severely damages his Senate prospects, though they also predict his first-quarter fundraising numbers will be huge, a function of his powerful position in the state Senate.
But regardless of whether Haridopolos can recover from the criticism he has received, Hasner looks poised to enter the race. Insiders believe he will be a formidable contender for the nomination.
Hasner, also 41 and like Haridopolos born in New York, represented parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties in the state House until 2010.
Personable and articulate, Hasner is often referred to as “a favorite of grass-roots conservatives,” and he received a glowing review by conservative columnist John Gizzi in a recent edition of Human Events, a conservative newspaper and website. He also has strong fundraising potential from Jewish Republicans in Florida but also nationally, and his ties to Rubio will be an obvious asset.
“The next big issue on the horizon is going to be to see how many Republicans have the principle to stand up and vote ‘no’ on increasing the debt ceiling,” Hasner said late last month during an appearance on uncompromising conservative Mark Levin’s radio show.
When Levin asked Hasner whether he considered himself “aligned with tea party activists” such as Lee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Hasner said, “I do.”
Savvy insiders all agree that money will be a factor for the three GOP hopefuls. The state is large, advertising is costly, and voters normally don’t have politics high on their list of priorities. Fundraising is particularly crucial for LeMieux, who will need to change the impression that he and Crist are one.