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George LeMieux's Senate campaign may be in trouble

In a series of one-two-three blows, George LeMieux's Senate campaign has been staggered by anemic fundraising, the specter of a big-name Republican jumping into the race and new court documents that make him a witness in the criminal case against the former governor's handpicked Republican Party of Florida chairman.

Now some are wondering how long LeMieux's campaign will last.

LeMieux knows he's struggling against U.S. Rep. Connie Mack of Fort Myers.

"Do I have an uphill climb? Sure I do," LeMieux said. "I'm not the front-runner in this race. I'm the underdog. Connie Mack IV is the establishment candidate."

LeMieux's campaign got even tougher this week when Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said he was considering entering the Republican race to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

As a statewide officeholder and solid fundraiser, Atwater would pose an immediate threat to Mack's top-dog status and would further threaten the viability of LeMieux's candidacy.

Mack, the namesake of a former senator and baseball manager, raised nearly three times the money last quarter as LeMieux, who reported Friday taking in just $305,000.

The day he reported his fundraising numbers, LeMieux was dealt another setback when he was mentioned in connection with the fraud case against former Republican Party of Florida chairman Jim Greer. Greer is accused of defrauding the party by setting up a dummy company and funneling some of the party's fundraising proceeds to himself.

Greer says he's innocent, and that the fundraising work he did saved the party money and was legitimate.

The state party's former finance chairman, Harry Sargeant, said in an affidavit released Friday that Greer's work appeared appropriate, and he suggested the fundraising idea was partly LeMieux's doing.

"In late 2008, I had several discussions with Gov. Crist, George LeMieux and Greer regarding RPOF fundraising," Sargeant wrote in his sworn statement. "During the above-described late 2008 discussions, it was suggested that Greer and RPOF Executive Director Delmar Johnson should take over fundraising responsibility," Sargeant wrote, "and there would be compensation for same in addition to the existing compensation from the RPOF."

LeMieux denies Sargeant's insinuation that he knew about Greer's contract or that he was present when Greer was to get a cut of the action.

"It does not say 'LeMieux had a discussion,' " LeMieux said. "It doesn't say I was in that meeting," LeMieux said. "It was carefully drafted to leave you with that conclusion — carefully crafted by a lawyer who's trying to get this story written."

Greer's attorney, Damon Chase, said LeMieux is misreading the affidavit. "Those are Sargeant's words, not mine, not any lawyer's — in that affidavit," Chase said.

Greer says his problems stem from his support of Charlie Crist, who ultimately left the Republican Party as he waged an unsuccessful, negative campaign against Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010. Crist, now reviled by many Republicans, had appointed LeMieux to hold that Senate seat on an interim basis.

Greer's case is a stark reminder that LeMieux was Crist's right-hand man for years — a fact that, LeMieux says, is something he deals with daily on the campaign trail. "This case is bad for George's campaign," Chase said. "But it probably doesn't matter anyway; Connie Mack is going to kick his behind."

LeMieux said that's not a given because he's winning conservative Republican polls, and Mack is losing or ducking them because he doesn't want people to realize he's not his dad, a former senator.

"He has the golden name," LeMieux said. "He's running a campaign based on confusion. Connie Mack doesn't have the fitness or the character to serve in the U.S. Senate."

LeMieux noted that, despite Mack's fundraising edge, he only has $100,000 more in the bank with $1.3 million cash on hand.

But Mack's campaign manager, Jeff Cohen, pointed out in a written statement that his candidate has momentum, and LeMieux doesn't. "George LeMieux continues to raise less and less with each passing quarter, while Connie Mack raises more and more," Cohen said. "George LeMieux's weak fundraising performance is because his lackluster campaign of desperation has turned off supporters."

George LeMieux's Senate campaign may be in trouble 04/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 9:56pm]
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