From right: Republican Florida Senate candidates George LeMieux, Mike McCalister, Adam Hasner and former Senate candidate Mike Haridopolos take part in a June forum.
Despite the victory, he was outraised by LeMieux last quarter and has had trouble increasing his standing in polls. Seventeen percent of registered Republicans polled said they would vote for LeMieux in the Quinnipiac survey.
LeMieux emphasized his conservative voting record during his 16-month stint in the Senate in his speech to the CPAC audience.
But despite his polling advantage, the former Senator is saddled with his connections to former Gov. Charlie Crist and former state Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer.
Crist, for whom LeMieux served as chief of staff, is despised by the GOP base for bolting the party in a failed bid to win a Senate seat in 2010.
And Greer faces a trial next year for allegedly stealing money from the state party. Crist, who recommended Greer for the chairmanship, told the St. Petersburg Times that LeMieux "was very instrumental in making that recommendation."
A person with knowledge of LeMieux's thinking said the former Senator, who has not been subpoenaed or deposed in the Greer matter, isn't at all worried about what might come out during the trial. The source also noted that LeMieux was in the private sector when Greer's alleged wrongdoing began.
But plugged-in strategists across the state suspect there could be trouble ahead for LeMieux as the trial unfolds, if only because of an increased emphasis on his connection to Greer.
"I have no idea what is going to come out in the Greer trial, but it certainly cannot be a good thing for George. The bottom line is: His relationships with Charlie Crist and Jim Greer are big crosses to bear in a Republican primary," Navarro said. "Whether he can get beyond that is yet to be seen."
"I think George is French toast," longtime GOP consultant Roger Stone said. "George LeMieux was the creator, protector and defender of Jim Greer."
The two other Republicans in the GOP primary — former Ruth's Chris CEO Craig Miller and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister — are not seen as serious contenders by establishment Republicans. McCalister did, however, come in a close second in the Quinnipiac poll and in the straw poll.
All this leaves Nelson — who is not particularly liked or disliked by Floridians, according to recent polling — plodding along.
"We're 14 months out, there's still uncertainty as to who the opponent will be, and the Senator is just going to keep doing his job," Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley told Roll Call.
Nelson's longer-term strategy appears to include distancing himself from ties to the Capitol and emphasizing his ties to Florida, which could help blunt the effect of the potent anti-Washington sentiment in the state.
"Our challenge, like for any candidate running in 2012, is to make sure that the race is about who we are, who Bill Nelson is and his relationship with the state," said Nelson pollster Dave Beattie. "That's going to be the No. 1 goal is to make sure [voters] understand who he is as a person, not just what he's done in Washington."
Beattie, a respected Democratic pollster based in Florida, said this cycle, "whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, part of what your task is in 2012 is to make sure voters know who you are and what you're doing for them. Not just that you have been in Washington."
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