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LeMieux wins East Hillsborough GOP straw poll

Posted May 19, 2012 by William March

Updated May 19, 2012 at 06:39 PM

George LeMieux has won another straw poll in the Republican U.S. Senate primary, this one at a picnic sponsored by three East Hillsborough County Republican clubs.

The results: LeMieux got 52 percent of the votes cast at the event, to 38 percent for Connie Mack IV, 5 percent for Dave Weldon and 3 percent for Mike McCalister. Abpout 350 attended the event, and 156 cast votes, organizers said.

In the state Senate District 17 primary, Rob Wallace outran Jim Norman by 47 percent to 36 percent, with 17 percent for John Korsak. The district includes large areas of Pasco County as well as Hillsborough.

The event, held at Medard Park in Plant City this afternoon, was sponsored by Republicans clubs from Brandon, Plant City and East Hillsborough.

Organizers contended it wasn’t just a vote-buying contest even though any attendee could cast a ballot for $5, because people were allowed to buy only one ticket.

LeMieux has won several such events even though he trails Mack distantly in polls of Republican voters. LeMieux has a base of support among a group of East Hillsborough GOP activists including former county party Chairman Debbie Cox-Roush.

Mack supporters say it’s easy for organizers to pack any such event with backers of one candidate, but LeMieux supporters say they show a realistic slice of how groups of Republicans feel.

LeMieux attended the event and spoke, as did Weldon and McCalister, while Mack didn’t, even though organizers originally announced he was coming.

One of the organizers, Jeff Lukens, said they believed either Mack or his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III, would come, but that it was never certain, and the organizers were told Tuesday neither was coming. Mack supporters said the candidate had family commitments; his sister, Debbie Caldwell of Pinellas County, was present and working the crowd for her brother, along with a couple of campaign staffers.

For Weldon, a former congress member from Melbourne who just entered the race Tuesday, it was one of his first campaign appearances. He acknowledged in an interview he’s starting into the race late and far behind in money and, compared to Mack, in name recognition, but said, “I believe conservatives will rally behind me.”

Weldon said when he retired from Congress in 2008, he didn’t expect to return to politics, but decided to enter this race because he believes conservatives aren’t happy with the current field of candidates. “I’ve had grass-roots people tell me they’re uncomfortable getting behind him,” he said of Mack.

LeMieux, who has made a point of showing up for even small gatherings of Republicans, has criticized Mack for missing the event.

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