By Zayida Baker

Republican senatorial candidates former Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., former Florida House of Representatives Majority Leader Adam Hasner, businessman Craig Miller, and retired Army Col. Mike McCalister are courting conservatives in a wide-open primary to challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in 2012.

The four faced off August 20 in a two-hour Orlando debate. They did not argue with each other and agreed on most points, such as opposing stem-cell research, civil unions, hate-crimes legislation, and federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Hasner and LeMieux, the two politicians in the race, have both pledged to vote to cut, cap and balance the federal budget. Some have likened the contest between them to that of former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Hasner narrowly beat McCalister in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll in September, 34 to 30 percent. Another poll that month put LeMieux on top. Nelson himself seems vulnerable with a recent approval rating of 40 percent.

Miller, a Vietnam veteran who ran Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Pizzeria Uno, and the National Restaurant Association (NRA), says that he has created 40,000 jobs in his career. Former Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him state tourism commissioner in 2007. In 2010 he ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primary for Florida’s 24th District and came under fire for a soft stance on immigration, detailed in an NRA press release. He supports E-Verify and wants to lower taxes, pass a balanced-budget amendment, and eliminate the Department of Education and, seemingly, the Environmental Protection Agency. He resides in Winter Park.

McCalister had a 33-year military career. He is a professor and businessman with experience in agriculture and the healthcare industry. He made a low-budget bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010, winning 10 percent of the vote. In a well-received speech at the Republican Leadership Conference June 18, McCalister favored lower taxes, a balanced-budget amendment, less regulation, and tort reform. He is also wary of the United Nations’ influence and wants to downsize or abolish the Department of Education. He believes in the Tenth Amendment and wants to reverse Roe v. Wade. He lives in Plant City.

Hasner, who lives in Boca Raton, has the longest record as an elected official. He represented Florida’s 87th District in the state House from 2002 to 2010 and in his last year was majority leader—picked by then-Speaker Rubio, as he often mentions. (Rubio has not endorsed anyone so far.) Hasner also led the Florida House in pressuring Congress to pass a balanced-budget amendment and voted to reject $500 million in stimulus funds for Florida. His weaknesses include past support for cap-and-trade legislation and opposing expansion of school vouchers.

LeMieux served as interim senator from September 2009 to January 2011 after being appointed by Crist, who had hoped to win the seat for himself in 2010. He managed Crist’s gubernatorial campaign and then became his chief of staff. Since Crist’s embarrassing loss to conservative Rubio—and a campaign in which he left the Republican Party—LeMieux has distanced himself from Crist. LeMieux points to his record in the Senate, which earned 100% ratings from the Chamber of Commerce and the Christian Coalition; however, these scores were common, and the most conservative senators got lower scores from the chamber. He offered a bill in the Senate to revert federal spending to 2007 levels. LeMieux lives in Broward County.

McCalister and LeMieux, along with senatorial candidates Ron McNeil and Marielena Stuart, will speak Saturday, October 22, at the Conservative Countdown to 2012. The event is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Lake City at the Columbia County Fairgrounds.

A businessman and inventor, McNeil wants to enact a three- to five-year tax moratorium to draw companies back to America. He ran unsuccessfully against freshman Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., in the 2010 Republican primary to take on former Democrat Rep. Allen Boyd.

Stuart, a linguist and columnist, was born in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. She is staunchly pro-life, pro-family and anti-socialist. She wants the government to stop suppressing population growth and weakening the family.

John Lacquey, regional businessman and president of the North Central Florida Tea Party, sees promise in plans for reform of immigration and tax policy and the entrance of “non-politicians” in the race, especially McCalister and McNeil. His group is one of those sponsoring the Conservative Countdown. He says, “People need to get out and educate themselves” on the Republican senatorial field this Saturday in Columbia County. “We haven’t been doing our job [in] holding our politicians accountable.”

You may wish to contact
Sen. Nelson: (202) 224-5274

Zayida Baker covers Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Steve Southerland for Tea Party Patriots’ Government Accountability Project. She can be reached at zayida.baker@tppjournalism.org.