Blog: Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater decides against GOP Senate run

Apr 22, 2012

The following article was published in the Palm Beach Post on April 22, 2012:

Jeff Atwater decides against GOP Senate run

By George Bennett

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has decided not to enter the Republican primary for U.S. Senate after briefly considering a late bid.

“As much as Carole and I are humbled by your calls, notes and messages to enter the US Senate race and carry our banner into the fight we believe we have a responsibility to finish the job Floridians elected us to do,” Atwater said in a weekend Facebook post. He’s less than 16 months into his four-year term as Florida CFO.

Atwater, a North Palm Beach resident, said last week he was mulling a Senate bid after being “asked by a number of people who I have tremendous respect for in conservative circles around the state.”

U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral, and former appointed Sen. George LeMieux are the leading GOP candidates to oppose two-term Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Atwater said he had heard some “frustration” from Republican activists about the direction of the Senate race. Nelson led Mack, 44 percent to 36 percent, in a recent Quinnipiac University poll and ended the first quarter with a $9.5 million warchest, compared to $1.3 million in cash on hand for Mack and $1.2 million for LeMieux.

“It’s a sign of the respect that people have for Jeff Atwater that they gave him a lot of encouragement to consider this race,” said Tallahassee GOP strategist Rick Wilson, who advised Atwater’s 2010 campaign for CFO.

“For the good of the party, he made the right decision. This primary’s been divisive enough and we need to get behind one person as our nominee. As Jeff reflected on it, that (entering the Senate race) would have delayed this process,” Wilson said.

Wilson, who was a consultant to Republican Adam Hasner‘s Senate campaign before Hasner dropped out in February, predicted that the GOP now will “coalesce around Connie Mack.”

Mack has topped GOP polls since he entered the race in November. But he lost some recent straw polls of party activists to LeMieux, who has labeled Mack “the Charlie Sheen of Florida politics” because of past financial troubles and decades-old barroom brawls.

LeMieux has troubles of his own with some Republicans because of his past role as campaign manager and chief of staff for moderate former Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist bolted the GOP and became an independent in 2010 after falling behind eventual Sen. Marco Rubio in a Republican primary.

Several heavyweight Mack backers on Friday signed a letter urging LeMieux to drop out of the race to give Mack “ample time and support to mount the campaign necessary to defeat Bill Nelson in November.”

Signers of the letter included state Sen. and former Republican Party of Florida Chairman John Thrasher, Senate President Mike Haridopolos, Jeb Bush Jr., and key Florida GOP money-raisers such as Florida Crystals President Jose “Pepe” Fanjul of Palm Beach, Boca Raton developer Ned Siegel, former Republican National Committee finance chairman Al Hoffman, investor Joe Fogg and Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard.

LeMieux’s campaign rejected the idea and renewed attacks its attacks on Mack.

“With Mack the Fourth’s history of violence and financial misconduct, voters will no doubt realize he lacks the maturity to be a United States Senator,” LeMieux spokeswoman Anna Nix said. “George LeMieux is the only candidate who can defeat Bill Nelson in November and end Harry Reid’s reign as Majority Leader.”

Atwater, 54, is a former state House member and Senate president. A great-grandson of former Florida Gov. Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Atwater has been widely viewed as a potential future candidate for governor.

In passing up a Senate candidacy, Atwater did not endorse a candidate but pledged to be involved in the race.

“I promise you this,” Atwater said on Facebook. “I will be with you and I will work at your side between now and November to see that Florida elects a United States Senator committed to our founding principles of freedom and liberty which has produced a prosperity never before achieved on this planet and which has inspired people across the globe.”

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