Last weekend, a Senate Forum was held in Orlando at the tail end of a statewide tea party gathering, followed by a straw poll. Of those who attended the forum and chose to participate in the straw poll, just under half of the overall attendees, George LeMieux was the heavy favorite.
Now there have been those who've disputed the validity of that straw poll, primarily supporters of Rep. Connie Mack, however, what cannot be disputed is that LeMieux did a better job connecting with the room that night than the other two candidates present, Mack and Col. Mike McCalister.
As one attendee attested; "I did not vote for LeMieux in this straw poll, but I would have to say that he definitely had the best performance of the three candidates."
So how is that possible?
With the constant reminder of George Lemieux's connections with former Gov. Charlie Crist, an unforgivable act in the eyes of some, how is it that his message resonates with tea party activists? It's not as if those present last weekend overlooked this little nugget, LeMieux barely had both feet on stage before he was ambushed with the question and Mack was also quick to bring it up.
And with Col. McCalister having spent months on end touting himself as the 'tea party candidate', how is it that LeMieux comes into what should be McCalister's home turf and carries the day?
Perception often trumps reality and nowhere is this more true than in politics. Millions are spent carefully crafting a candidate's image or shaping his opponent in the eyes of the public. Our senses are assaulted with cleverly designed ads, often with so much spin we're left not knowing which end is up. On the campaign trail every candidate promises milk and honey, while every opponent is the spawn of Satan himself.
Often times, when we look at the actions and words of a politician when he is not campaigning, we get a little more accurate picture of his true self. So in an effort to solve this great mystery of how George LeMieux is appealing to the grassroots, we're going to climb aboard the way-back machine and take a look at the man before he started campaigning.
LeMieux was appointed to replace retiring Senator Mel Martinez back in August, 2009, the first time he has held public office, and formally announced his intentions to run for Sen. Bill Nelson' s seat on April 5, 2011.
In February, 2010 LeMieux joined with Sen. Jim Demint (R-SC) and others to introduce legislation to impose a moratorium on earmarks and also a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. He said at the time;
“Washington is addicted to spending and earmarks are the gateway drug to enormous debt. We need to stop earmarks and require a balanced budget. The American people don’t trust Washington to do the right thing with their money – and for good reason. The longer we do nothing about our debt, the longer struggle toward prosperity our children and future generations face.”
In May, 2010, LeMieux was a guest blogger for The Heritage Foundation and the topic was the president’s nominee to the United States Supreme Court. He opined;
"Congress’ tendency to expand government power is as real today as it was in [Alexander] Hamilton’s time. Healthcare mandates, exponential increases in the federal debt, and the recent spate of government bailouts all reflect that, left unchecked, government will expand into every nook and cranny of our commerce and our lives."
In June, 2010, during a a meeting with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board, LeMiuex said;
"Fiscal responsibility is nothing but background music in Washington."
In August, 2010, LeMieux hosted the "Fiscal Solutions Forum" in Orlando and Tampa, along with former U.S. Comptroller General David M. Walker and Concord Coalition Ex. Dir. Robert L. Bixby, two national budget experts. The forum focused on the national debt and the net interest paid on that debt. His comments then;
"We’re going to have to look across the board. My view is that we don’t have a revenue problem in Washington. We’ve got a spending problem. We’re going to have to look at our spending programs. We’re going to have to prioritize. No one even looks to see whether or not we’re spending our money efficiently and effectively. It’s going to take some principal people to go up there and try to do the right thing."
"Washington spending is out of control and the size of our debt proves it. From the time I came to Congress until now, the public debt has increased by one and a half trillion dollars. We have a responsibility to the American people to rein in spending and ensure that every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely, not wastefully. Now is the time to make the difficult decisions, not somewhere down the road after we've passed along the burden to our children."
So when George LeMieux stood before tea party activists and identified the national debt as our "number one threat", stated that “career politicians, both parties, are as great a threat” and spoke of the future of our children as being the motivation behind his run, it's very likely he wasn't just pandering to his audience, but was speaking to his convictions.
He was also speaking the tea party's language. He did not bluster and he did not tell the audience one thing, then spend the following days walking it back in the media. He was speaking to what he has been saying all along, to what most in that room have dedicated three years of their lives to; fiscal responsibility, limited government and free market solutions.
Which may be what prompts responses such as this from a reader;
"I watched George LeMieux’s voting record after he took over as interim senator. To my surprise, he voted along Small-Government, Tea Party lines repeatedly. I had expected to find another Charlie Crist pattern since Crist had appointed him. Yet, LeMieux voted as an actual Reagan-style conservative would have voted... at this point, I’d choose George LeMieux. And am personally quite surprised to find myself in this position."
LeMieux closed out his comments last week by saying, "I'm not a show horse, I'm a work horse." It would be hard to disagree that we have plenty of show horses already in Washington, D.C.