ORLANDO, Fla. — Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux aggressively pointed out differences between himself and GOP Senate frontrunner Connie Mack IV at a Saturday night forum with tea party organizers, drawing a sharp response from Mack.
Both candidates, along with retired Army Col. Mike McCalister, separately addressed a statewide group of tea party leaders. LeMieux repeatedly drew contrasts with Mack and criticized him as a career politician hoping to capitalize on the name of his father, former Sen. Connie Mack III.
“I am not the establishment candidate. You’re going to hear from him in a minute,” LeMieux said. “United States Senate is not a crown to be passed from father to son.”
Mack, a member of Congress, told the group he could spend his half hour answering attacks from LeMieux, but he’d rather talk about issues. But he then ripped into LeMieux for his ties to former Gov. Charlie Crist, who abandoned the Republican Party in a failed independent Senate bid two years ago. LeMieux ran Crist’s campaign for governor and then served as his chief of staff before the then-governor tapped LeMieux to fill the last 16 months of Mel Martinez’ Senate term.
Mack said LeMieux helped Crist shape policies that promoted big government and said his current conservative positions are a makeover.
“I know April Fools is tomorrow, but I don’t think we’re going to fall for it today,” Mack said.
McCalister positioned himself as the type of outsider needed in Washington.
“What we’ve done in the Senate is like we’ve done in too many other offices, we’ve made it all about who’s the media darling, the party chosen one or the biggest fundraiser,” McCalister said. “Just like in the workplace you don’t promote people to just any job and promote them up.”
LeMieux was asked about his Crist ties and whether it would be political baggage to Republicans. The Republican nominee will try to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Crist “disappointed us, no one more than me,” LeMieux said. He then added that when Crist left the GOP, he immediately endorsed Republican nominee (and now U.S. Sen.) Marco Rubio while Mack waited another four months
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