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The Sunshine State has been a hotbed of presidential campaign activity during the past week. The 2012 hopefuls hashed it out in a widely watched TV debate, made their case to attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference and worked for votes at the Republican Party of Florida's Presidency 5 straw poll event.
The focus on the presidential contenders has overshadowed the race to take on two-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. That might be because — 11 months before the GOP primary — no true frontrunner has emerged, and no candidate has fired up the party base.
Florida is a huge state — it's a shorter drive from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery, Ala., than it is from Pensacola to Key West — so it's not a surprise that with dozens of vastly different constituencies to introduce themselves to, none of the GOP contenders has broken through in a substantial way.
In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 58 percent of registered Republicans said they didn't know for whom they would vote if the Senate primary were to be held today.
Former Florida House Majority Leader Adam Hasner and former Sen. George LeMieux lead the pack, but neither excite the base, and some strategists in the Sunshine State see room for someone else.
"I don't think it's a slam dunk for anybody yet, and I'm still not convinced that there's not going to be a late-in-the-game self-funder showing up," said Florida-based GOP strategist Ana Navarro, who is unaligned with any Senate candidate. "When you have a field where there is an enthusiasm gap and where nobody is emerging as a dominant leader, it makes other people, especially those who have the ability to self fund, take a second look."
Republican consultant Chris Ingram, who attended the CPAC event in Florida, said the feeling of GOP voters there was a marked lack of excitement with the field.
"The consensus is that nobody is thrilled with any of the candidates," he said. "But at this point, it's probably Hasner's to lose."
Palm Beach County Republican Party Chairman Sid Dinerstein, who hasn't endorsed any candidate, agreed that Hasner appeared to be the frontrunner and that the base wasn't as enthusiastic as it could be for the current crop of Senate hopefuls. But, he said, "short of [former Gov.] Jeb Bush getting into the race — which he isn't — that probably isn't going to change."
Dinerstein joked that the Florida GOP had become spoiled after conservative firebrands Rep. Allen West and Sen. Marco Rubio won in 2010.
"The problem becomes you're always looking for Marco and Allen — and life is not quite like that," he said.