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Florida Senate Race Heats Up for GOP

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Sen. Bill Nelson has plenty of money in the bank and time to prepare for what’s expected to be a competitive re-election race in 2012. Republicans must first select someone to challenge the Florida Democrat, with three major candidates starting to campaign in earnest.

Haridopolos’ biggest weakness could be his ethical troubles. He was cited by the state Senate for failing to disclose all of his sources of income on required filings. Then there’s the $152,665 he was paid by Brevard Community College to write his benign-sounding book “Florida Legislative History and Processes.” The school did not make the manuscript publicly available until more than four years after Haridopolos submitted the text, prompting ethics questions that state Democrats have been happy to exploit.

Weaknesses aside, Sunshine State consultants say no candidate has lit a fire with voters.

“In a presidential year, it’s going to take perfect execution and a Republican candidate who can inspire a movement,” Vangelakos said.

Ingram said the most consistent comment he gets from GOP voters “is that they hope someone else emerges into the field.”

Who that someone else is remains unclear, but it’s a narrative national Democrats love. “Even establishment Republicans and rank-and-file conservatives recognize that their candidates are deeply flawed,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Shripal Shah said.

Hasner and LeMieux have not filed reports with the Federal Election Commission, but Haridopolos’ campaign is already a fundraising juggernaut. The Florida Senate president raked in
$2.6 million in the first quarter of this year. Nelson raised $1.8 million last quarter and had a comfortable $4.6 million in the bank as of March 31.

But Republicans have not let the Democrat’s significant bankroll keep them from taking aim at someone they see as beatable.

Nelson’s office declined to answer campaign questions.

“The election’s 19 months away,” Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told Roll Call. “Come election time, if the folks in Florida like the way Nelson’s been working for them, then the politics will take care of itself.”

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