Reporter William March has covered state and national politics since 1994. Email
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Atwater may jump into Senate race
Posted Apr 16, 2012 by William March
Updated Apr 17, 2012 at 10:47 AM
With Florida Republicans unsatisfied about their choices in the U.S. Senate race and pessimistic about their prospects of unseating Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is now saying he may enter the race, a potential game-changer.
Atwater told conservative blogger Javier Manjarres of the Shark Tank blog this afternoon he’s seriously considering the race. Here’s the video.
Atwater, considered a likely future candidate for governor rather than the Senate, had previously said he wasn’t interested.
But today he said Republicans who asked him before have come back to ask him agani.
“These are serious-minded people and I share that same concdern they hold.” he said. So frankly, yeah, I’m going to consider it. They’ve come back of late, it’s a push that they’re asking, and it’s late, but I share this same deep-seated concern. I think I have a responsibility to sit back, to these people that I respect greatly ... and take a hard look at it.”
If he did enter, he could become the immediate front-runner in the primary for the GOP nomination to take on Nelson, in which the competitors include U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers, George LeMieux and Plant City tree farmer and military retiree Mike McCalister.
Atwater would become the only competitor in the primary whose name has ever been on a statewide ballot. His biggest problem would be that it’s late in the campaign season to begin the arduous problem of raising the kind of money it takes to run a statewide campaign in Florida. But Atwater, of Palm Beach, is known as a successful fundraiser.
Mack has led by a large margin in polls of Republican primary voters so far, and in one poll, produced results suggesting he might be competitive with Nelson—though a more recent poll showed Nelson with a significant lead. Mack has the best-known name of the group, after his father, former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack III, and his baseball great grandfather.
But Mack’s fundraising has not been overwhelming, and primary voters don’t appear to be swept away by him. He has lost three straw polls among groups of Republican Party or tea party activists, including two that followed forums with the other candidates.
LeMieux, meanwhile, is running a very active campaign, getting support from tea party Republicans, and criticizing Mack as too moderate. But he has never run for statewide office before.
LeMieux was a long-time political operative and right-hand man for former Gov. Charlie Crist, who appointed him to a temporary term in the U.S. Senate. That association has now become a handicap—Crist became anathema to Republicans when he left the party to run as an independent against Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010.