TALLAHASSEE — Former Sen. George LeMieux dropped out of the Republican primary for Senate on Wednesday, saying that he can’t compete against Connie Mack IV’s famous name and the fact that the party establishment has gotten behind the congressman.
LeMieux, who was appointed to fill the last 16 months of Sen. Mel Martinez’ term, said he didn’t have the money for widespread television ads to counter Mack’s name recognition, and Mack’s refusal to debate won’t allow voters statewide to compare the two.
He said his decision will give the party a better chance of beating Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson in November.
“To continue would only hurt our chances in the fall, and that is not something that I will risk. Connie Mack will be our nominee. He has my support,” LeMieux said in a video emailed by the campaign to reporters and supporters.
LeMieux was appointed to the Senate by then Gov. Charlie Crist and agreed not to run for the seat when the term expired in 2011. Crist sought the seat, but lost the 2010 election to Marco Rubio.
Mack has already been campaigning as if he won the nomination. He refused to debate his primary opponents and has emailed supporters and potential donors that he wants to now take the fight directly to Nelson. Now the only candidates standing in the way are former Congressman Dave Weldon, who entered the race just before the qualifying deadline and isn’t well known outside the Space Coast district he used to represent, and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, who has few resources and little organization.
“We welcome the latest statement form George LeMieux and agree that the internal fight among Republicans would not have been helpful in our shared commitment to defeat Bill Nelson. I welcome and thank George for his decision to support my campaign,” Mack said in a statement released by his campaign. “I urge all the citizens of Florida who want less government, less taxing, less spending and more freedom to now join with us in our campaign to defeat Bill Nelson and to help Mitt Romney defeat Barack Obama.”
A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed Mack ahead of LeMieux by more than 30 percentage points. Mack is helped by the name he shares with his father, a former senator, and his great-grandfather, the Hall of Fame baseball manager.
“He wasn’t going anywhere,” Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac’s polling institute, said about LeMieux. “He couldn’t get out of single digits.”
The university was preparing to release its latest poll on the race Thursday. Brown wouldn’t discuss those numbers.
Mack has racked up an impressive list of endorsements, including former Gov. Jeb Bush.
LeMieux’s decision comes exactly two weeks after writing a $10,440 check to qualify for the Aug. 14 primary.
While LeMieux said he is now backing Mack, the support comes after months of personal attacks. LeMieux called Mack, 44, the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics, pointing to a 1992 bar fight with Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant, a 1989 arrest outside a Jacksonville bar, old road rage incidents and his messy divorce after being elected to Congress in 2004.
LeMieux said Mack wasn’t fit to serve in the Senate. LeMieux also repeatedly said that Mack’s only real-life experience was promoting events for Hooters. Mack, among other jobs he had before being elected to the Florida House in 2000, was a marketing executive with LTP Management, which manages several chain restaurants, including Hooters in South Florida.
Democrats are picking up where LeMieux left off.
“It is not just Connie Mack’s well-documented record of drunken brawls, violent road rage episodes, and attacks on law enforcement that makes him such a bad candidate. It is his diehard commitment to cutting Medicare benefits and privatizing Social Security for Florida seniors that makes him unacceptable to Florida voters,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “With a stint as a special events manager at Hooters as his only work experience, Mack cashed in his family name to win a seat in Congress.”