When the mischief is already done
Up until May 18, Florida Republicans were basically facing a choice between just two candidates for the party's nomination to the U.S. Senate to challenge Bill Nelson in November. Although Cornelius McGillicuddy IV (aka: Connie Mack) lacks accomplishment, he has been the presumptive front-runner in the race, while George LeMieux has worked tirelessly to get Republican voters to forget that he used to be Charlie Crist's right-hand man. After watching the field of previous candidates fail to make traction, Mack got in relatively late. But given that his father was a member of Congress from Florida for 18 years, he has been able to take advantage of daddy's hard work and reputation to rise to the top. But all that rises to the top isn't necessarily the cream of the crop. Mack was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and hasn't ever let go. Other than great lineage and marrying well, Mack has never achieved much without using the old family name. Further proof of his lack of skills and talent recently became evident when he refused to participate in a planned televised debate.For his part, LeMieux is smart and determined, has his law degree and was chief of staff to Gov. Crist. But outside of being a self-made politico, he's just another politician with a cunning twist. Mack recently accused LeMieux of "extorting or bribery" of Crist to get himself appointed to the U.S. Senate when Mel Martinez resigned. Regardless, LeMieux struggles to connect with GOP activist voters who loath all things related to Charlie. To his credit, Lemieux does well with Tallahassee and Washington insiders — the same insiders who supported Crist for Senate before he bolted the GOP when he realized he was going to get clobbered in the primary by Marco Rubio. None of this sits well for the Republican Party's prospects of defeating the incumbent Nelson, who remains the luckiest man in Congress, having bested such GOP "stars" as Bill McCollum and Katherine Harris in the past. Enter Dave Weldon. Unknown to most Floridians, Weldon is a medical doctor and a former seven-term member of Congress from Florida's Space Coast. He voluntarily retired from Congress in 2009 to return to practicing medicine for a large physicians group. While Mack's entry into the race six months ago was considered late, Weldon's is being called "too late" by most politicos. One Washington operative who wished to remain anonymous told me, "[Dave is] a great guy. I've known him for long time. Sorry he left Congress, but too late [of an] entry." Meanwhile, former Ambassador Al Hoffman, a highly respected Republican who is supporting Mack, said, "I don't know him. I don't know his background." Clearly, Weldon has his work cut out for him before Florida's Aug. 14 primary. Weldon is banking on a grass-roots groundswell from voters who are uninspired and disappointed with their options of the Machiavellian Lemieux and the nepotistic beneficiary, Mack. When I met Weldon for lunch in St. Petersburg last week, he warmly greeted me and was casual and unpretentious. Despite telling him I am fiscally conservative and socially libertarian, it didn't stop him from rattling off his very conservative views on abortion, embryonic stem-cell research or the Terri Schiavo case — none of which impressed me. Eventually, Weldon moved on and began discussing with great candor how Congress needs to level with people about spending and entitlement programs that are going to bankrupt our country. Weldon acknowledges that telling voters "more pain is coming" is not politically popular, but he sees it as the only choice, saying, "I'd rather be honest and lose than dishonest and win." On the economy, Weldon said we should extend the Bush tax cuts, repeal Obamacare and lower corporate tax rates. He also supports fundamental tax reform in the form of a flat tax. He says the United States would not be dependent on foreign oil imports if we opened up fracking, which is a means of extracting natural gas by pumping sand, water and chemicals into the earth to force out the gas. He also supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and 40-plus miles off the coast of Florida. After discussing a few more issues, we got back to his race, and I asked him how he can win despite his late entry and almost no money. Weldon replied: "I win if Republican voters want a true social conservative to represent them. If they do, they will get behind me." Given the alternatives — who lack substance, non-political proficiencies and integrity — I'll take Dave Weldon any day. Despite his far-right social views, Weldon is a self-made man of accomplishment, has convictions and isn't afraid to speak the truth. As for his getting into the race too late, I am reminded of an old French Proverb: "Too late" is advice given when the mischief is already done.
Chris Ingram is a Republican political consultant and analyst for Bay News 9.