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PolitiFact Florida | St. Petersburg Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

Fighting for 2012 seat, Senate candidate brings up GOP star

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Adam Hasner is attacking GOP opponent George LeMieux by invoking two names likely to displease conservative primary voters.

Barack Obama and Charlie Crist.

In an Internet ad released June 10, Hasner tries to link LeMieux to Crist — the former governor who left the GOP while trying to win a U.S. Senate seat in 2010. Marco Rubio, a former state House speaker, won that seat. Now Rubio is a Republican star.

The Hasner ad opens on a picture of Crist. A narrator says:

Defended President Obama's stimulus as "helpful to Florida."

Fought for taxpayer-funded bailout of Big Sugar.

Architect of Obama-style cap-and-trade plan for Florida.

Falsely attacked Marco Rubio.

Even compared Marco Rubio to Barack Obama.

Charlie Crist — Right?

Wrong.

As the word "wrong" appears, the camera zooms out on the picture of Crist. There is LeMieux, whispering in Crist's ear. The ad finishes — "Get to know the real George LeMieux."

The goal of the message is clear enough: paint a portrait of LeMieux — Crist's former chief of staff who was later appointed by Crist to serve in the Senate — as an Obama-loving Crist buddy who criticized Florida's GOP superstar, Rubio.

But are the claims accurate? PolitiFact Florida decided to concentrate on two of the Rubio-centered attacks against LeMieux — that he "falsely attacked Marco Rubio," and that he "even compared Marco Rubio to Barack Obama."

Falsely attacked claim

The ad doesn't detail what LeMieux's attack against Rubio was, or why it was false, but Hasner campaign spokesman Rick Wilson pointed to a 2009 St. Petersburg Times article as the source.

The attack, Wilson said, was labeling Rubio a tax raiser.

"Marco Rubio supported the largest tax increase in Florida history when he wanted to raise the sales tax by 2 or 3 pennies," LeMieux said in the 2009 Times article.

The line traces back to when Rubio was House speaker. In 2007, the Legislature and then-Gov. Crist were looking for ways to cut property taxes for Floridians. Rubio's idea was to eliminate property taxes on primary residences all together.

But to make up for some of the lost revenue, Rubio said the state sales tax would be increased by 2.5 cents per dollar.

LeMieux fixated on one part of the plan (the sales tax increase), while ignoring the other (the massive property tax cut).

And that was a mistake.

A state analysis said the swap would save taxpayers a total of $5.8 billion in the first year, though some people — particularly renters and second-home owners — may have seen taxes increase. PolitiFact previously ruled False a claim that Rubio's plan would have been a massive tax increase.

So Hasner's claim is on solid ground. Our only quibble is that the ad failed to explain what Hasner was talking about — so viewers are left guessing. We rate the claim Mostly True.

Rubio and Obama

The other claim is that LeMieux "even compared Marco Rubio to Barack Obama."

The source of that claim also comes from a 2009 Times article, when Crist was running for the Senate as a Republican, and when LeMieux was supporting Crist over Rubio.

In the article, LeMieux critiqued Rubio's campaign tactic of criticizing Crist's decisions to accept stimulus money and offered a comparison to Obama.

"Being governor means you have to make choices. And you have to make decisions," LeMieux said. "It's very easy to be a critic, and the speaker now is not in office. He wasn't there when the state was facing the challenges of the huge recession and the stimulus. He didn't have to vote on that. All of the folks that were in his administration voted for the stimulus money. And I suspect if he were there, he could vote (to accept) it.

"This is just like President Obama being able to be against the war in Iraq because he didn't have to vote on it. There's a lot of parallels to draw between Speaker Rubio and President Obama in the way they are running their race and in their ability to throw bombs without ever having to lead because they are out of office."

A comparison (of campaign tactics), yes. But that alone doesn't mean we rate the claim true. Context is equally important, as is the impression viewers of the ad are left with.

LeMieux wasn't referencing policy — which we believe some watching the ad might think. And the comparison came while LeMieux was supporting his old boss, Crist, who was still a Republican.

Moreover, the context of what happened following that quote is diluted, if not missing from the ad. In the end, Crist left the GOP and ran for the Senate as an independent; LeMieux quickly said he would not support Crist; and eventually formally endorsed Rubio's campaign.

In fact, LeMieux called Rubio "the brightest star of our generation in politics — and not just in Florida, nationwide."

The ad misses all of that. We rate this claim Barely True.

The statement

Says George LeMieux "falsely attacked Marco Rubio."

Adam Hasner, June 10 in an

Internet ad.

The ruling

LeMieux said a Rubio plan while speaker of the Florida House would constitute the largest tax increase in state. But Rubio's plan actually reduced overall tax burden. We rate this claim Mostly True.

The statement

Says George LeMieux "even compared Marco Rubio to Barack Obama."

Adam Hasner, June 10 in an

Internet ad.

The ruling

LeMieux did compare Rubio and Obama's campaign tactics, back when Charlie Crist was running for Senate as a Republican and LeMieux was supporting his old boss. But LeMieux bailed on Crist when Crist bailed on the GOP. We rate this claim Barely True.

Fighting for 2012 seat, Senate candidate brings up GOP star 06/19/11 [Last modified: Sunday, June 19, 2011 11:11pm]

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