TALLAHASSEE — The Republican Senate primary race got personal Wednesday as former Sen. George LeMieux called Rep. Connie Mack IV "the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics" because of past run-ins with the law, and Mack's campaign responded that LeMieux is "an extraordinary political hack" who used his relationship with former Gov. Charlie Crist to become rich and powerful.
LeMieux cited a Miami Herald review of Mack's court records and financial documents to assert that Mack doesn't have the character or temperament to serve in the U.S. Senate.
"What we see is a 20-year pattern of misconduct," LeMieux said at a news conference. "Road rage incidents, bar fights and arrests; unable to pay his own taxes while a member of Congress; sued by his condominium association, his yacht club, his lawyer; not paying his family support payment."
LeMieux said attacking Mack on personal character issues is fair game because Mack has done the same for years, including calling Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich dangerous and erratic. Mack supports Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination. Likewise, LeMieux questioned Mack's behavior.
"You can't come away from a rap sheet like this and conclude anything other than Connie Mack the Fourth is the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics. In fact, that may be disrespectful to Charlie Sheen," LeMieux said. "With a record like this Connie Mack the Fourth cannot be hired, in my view, to be a teacher, to be a bank officer or to be a policeman, let alone should he be hired to be a United States senator."
Sheen lost his job on "Two and a Half Men" after a drug-fueled meltdown. Sheen was also arrested in 2009 for suspicion of assaulting his now ex-wife. Mack has not faced such charges.
Among the examples cited by LeMieux were Mack's bar fight with then-Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant in 1992, an arrest for resisting an officer without violence after an argument outside a Jacksonville nightclub in 1989, two road rage incidents in the late 80s, a late support payment to his first wife, a loan from his father so he could pay his federal income tax, an overdrawn checking account and failure to pay debts on time.
Expecting to be attacked, Mack's campaign issued a letter from campaign manager Jeff Cohen attacking LeMieux and his ties to Crist. LeMieux served as Crist's deputy attorney general, ran Crist's 2006 campaign for governor and served as chief of staff after Crist won the election. After leaving Crist's office, LeMieux continue to advise the governor and served as a consultant to the Republican Party of Florida. Crist appointed LeMieux to serve the last 16 months of Sen. Mel Martinez' term.
Crist sought the same Senate seat in 2010, but lost the support of many Republicans who saw him as a political moderate. Crist then bucked the party and ran unsuccessfully as an independent.
"Charlie appointed you to the U.S. Senate without you ever having previously had a single moment in elective office," Cohen wrote. "That must have been a sweet gig - warming the seat you thought would become Charlie's while looking out for Charlie's special interests both in Washington and Tallahassee."
Cohen said LeMieux' press conference served nothing more than to help Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is seeking his third term.
"George, if it weren't so pathetic it would only be sad. But your behavior is damaging to you, our Party, our state and the country," Cohen wrote. "It's time for you to go back to what you do best - being an insider's insider and a truly extraordinary political hack."
The LeMieux campaign's response to Cohen?
"It's no surprise that Mack the Fourth thinks a childish tantrum is an appropriate response to a discussion about his very serious character problems. Charlie Sheen would be proud," said spokeswoman Anna Nix.
Earlier, LeMieux said Mack, whose father was a senator and whose great-grandfather was a Hall of Fame baseball manager, built his political career on his name.
"Connie Mack the Fourth has gotten a life in politics because he carries a famous name and many people in the state mistake him for his father," said LeMieux, adding that he has tremendous respect for Connie Mack III. "Connie Mack the Fourth is not, in fact, his father."