George LeMieux, who held Mel Martinez' U.S. Senate seat for 16 months, is hammering away on a looming issue in the early going of his campaign to win the seat in earnest.
A Fort Lauderdale-based attorney, LeMieux is already campaigning for the Republican nomination for the seat, even though the general election against two-term Democrat Bill Nelson is 18 months away. And LeMieux chatted briefly at a recent campaign stop in Sarasota about the issue he knows will dog him: his relationship with former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who once called LeMieux a close friend and the maestro of his 2006 gubernatorial election victory. Crist, of course, appointed LeMieux to the Senate seat after Martinez retired in August 2009.
But Crist is also persona non grata in Republican circles because he defected from the party in 2010 in an unsuccessful attempt to win Martinez' Senate seat against Marco Rubio.
“Charlie is my friend,” LeMieux told a crowd of about 50 people April 28, “but the day he left the Republican Party, I endorsed Marco Rubio.”
LeMieux then quipped that he left the Senate to go back to private practice, while “Charlie left the governor's office to go left.”
Jokes aside, LeMieux knows the issue will come up again. He even subtly tries to address it on his campaign website, where he only mentions Crist's name in a section about his support for Rubio. The first part of the personal bio touts LeMieux's accomplishments in Tallahassee while he worked for “Florida's Governor,” not Crist.