In May, Quinnipiac University polled registered Republicans in Florida on their preferred candidate to take on Sen. Bill Nelson (D.), who faces reelection in 2012. Sixty-four percent were undecided, 14 percent chose former senator George LeMieux, and 4 percent picked little-known former state representative Adam Hasner.
Two months later, LeMieux announced he had raised $950,000 for his senatorial bid in the second quarter, almost double Hasner’s $560,000 haul.
Later that month, however, the St. Petersburg Times asked 79 Floridian political “insiders” for their bets on the primary. Thirty-five of them predicted Hasner would triumph, while only 14 forecast a LeMieux victory.
Why are political pikers bullish on Hasner? Because in him, they see the next Marco Rubio.
“If you like Marco Rubio, you’ll like this Adam Hasner, too,” conservative radio-talk-show host Mark Levin proclaimed in April. Erick Erickson, editor of RedState, endorsed Hasner that same month.
Hasner’s campaign is eager to highlight its candidate’s ties to Rubio, along with LeMieux’s ties to Charlie Crist, the former governor and moderate Republican. In 2007, Rubio, then speaker of the Florida house, appointed Hasner majority leader. That same year, LeMieux was serving as Crist’s chief of staff. When Sen. Mel Martinez (R.) resigned in 2009, Crist tapped LeMieux for the slot.
When Rubio and Crist themselves fought for a Senate seat, Rubio won twice — first, declining Republican support forced Crist to drop out of the GOP primary; then, Crist lost as an independent in the general election. But unfortunately for Hasner, the waters are muddier this time around, because he isn’t Marco Rubio, and George LeMieux isn’t Charlie Crist.
Unlike Crist, LeMieux acquired a conservative record while in Washington, D.C., and he’s quick to brandish it. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded his senatorial tenure a 100 percent positive record, as did the Christian Coalition. Look at my record, LeMieux argues, not my résumé.
“When I was working for the former governor, I would give him advice,” LeMieux tells National Review Online. “Sometimes he took it, sometimes he didn’t.”
He adds, “I’m the only person in this race who’s had this job, and my record is far more conservative than my opponent’s. I never requested an earmark. I never voted for a tax increase. My competitor voted for huge tax increases and big spending increases.”
LeMieux’s record has its blemishes: In 2010, he voted for the Food Safety Modernization Act, which expanded the powers of the Food and Drug Administration. Conservatives such as Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) warned the bill would “harm small businesses and raise prices at the grocery store.” But LeMieux reminded critics that he initially voted for Coburn’s bill, which failed, and maintained that ensuring food safety was a legitimate federal power.
The Food Safety Modernization Act carries nowhere near the import of other conservative bugbears such as the stimulus or Obamacare. And because LeMieux never cast a significant vote in support of President Obama’s policies, Hasner may have a harder time convicting him in conservatives’ eyes as a “Charlie Crist Republican.”
LeMieux’s connection to Crist “is a negative,” Sid Dinerstein, chairman of the Palm Beach County Republican party, admits, “but less than we insiders tend to think.”
Hasner also hasn’t led a pure political career. In June, the St. Petersburg Times ran a feature entitled, “Back in the day, he was moderate Adam Hasner.” In it, the Times reminded Hasner of his support for a bill that critics alleged could fund embryonic-stem-cell research, and his opposition to an expansion in the state school-voucher program. Talking Points Memo added to his woes, reporting that he had sponsored a bill that asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to devise rules for a cap-and-trade program.
Hasner’s campaign points out that the bill also forced the program to face a vote in the legislature, where, presumably, it would die. The legislation was an attempt to block Crist’s attempt to impose a cap-and-trade program via executive fiat, and environmentalists even opposed the bill, the campaign argues.
And Hasner may be less hawkish than LeMieux. When asked about U.S. involvement in Libya, LeMieux replies, “I support our action in Libya. Qaddafi should go. He has killed Americans. But we should get congressional authority to support the action in Libya. I think the president’s acting unconstitutionally.”
Hasner, meanwhile, is dubious: “From the very beginning, I opposed President Obama’s taking us into war in Libya. He’s spending money that I don’t believe is in the best interest of our national security, and we don’t have a plan for victory.”
When asked whether we should withdraw from Libya, Hasner responds, “Once you’ve committed troops to a mission, it’s the president’s job to define victory. I would put pressure on him to make that decision, and if he continues to be unwilling, then you have to look at the issue of how do you safely and carefully withdraw American troops from the mission.”
Hasner has positioned himself as a fiscal hawk, if not a national-security one. “I was the first candidate in the country to sign the ‘Cut, Cap, and Balance plan,” he says. LeMieux, for his part, reminds NRO that while in office he proposed freezing federal spending at 2007 levels. “We’d balance the budget in two years,” he says.
Conservative activists have been taking to Hasner. Last week, he spoke at the Reagan Day Dinner in the politically important Pasco County. “He was very well received,” says Bill Bunting, the county’s state GOP committeeman. (Bunting also notes LeMieux didn’t attend the dinner but sent a check to curry favor with the party apparatchiks.)
And conservatives don’t seem to be flocking to the two other candidates in the race, businessman Craig Miller and Col. Mike McCalister.
Miller, former chief executive of Ruth’s Chris Steak House, says he would have voted for “Cut, Cap, and Balance,” believes the U.S. should get rid of Qaddafi, and argues for more free-trade deals. “I would have been with that freshman class,” he tells NRO.
McCalister would have voted against any increase in the debt ceiling, laments the fact that the NATO treaty precludes us from withdrawing from Libya, and is amenable to abolishing the Department of Education. He also believes the U.S. should focus more on protecting its intellectual property from Chinese copycats. “Nobody’s talking about that, but it’s a serious issue,” he says.
Still, both are failed candidates from 2010 — Miller for Congress, McCalister for the governorship — and so far haven’t caught fire among the grassroots.
Most political prognosticators see the race narrowing to LeMieux and Hasner. But it’s unclear who’s the true-blue conservative in the race. Even Rubio himself has declined to endorse a candidate.
“Marco Rubio’s campaign was at the right time, in the right place, in the right circumstances,” says Tom DiMatteo, the GOP state committeeman for Pinellas County. “This cycle is 180 degrees different.”
— Brian Bolduc is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.
Editor’s Note: This article has been amended since its original posting.